The UK Research Excellence Framework’s focus on impact is a useful reminder of all the ways that science can help society — both economically and by other means.
The US measles outbreak highlights why most states should reconsider their vaccination rules.
A year of illumination switches on with a Nature special issue.
British approval for pioneering fertility technique leads other nations to consider rule changes.
Agency wants to pay senior biomedical researchers to wind down their labs.
Scientists pinpoint genes behind famous beak variations.
The US media are abuzz after an outbreak of measles in Disneyland but the disease will keep on popping up until it is wiped out worldwide.
Language analysis reflects how projects succeeded in unique assessment.
Scientists are pushing the properties of light to new extremes. A special issue explores these frontiers.
Shape it, squeeze it, energize it or tie it into knots. Scientists are taking light to new extremes.
Using techniques adapted from astronomy, physicists are finding ways to see through opaque materials such as living tissue.
News & Views
The cosmic microwave background is a faint glow of light left over from the Big Bang. It fills the entire sky and records the Universe's early history. Two independent experts outline what we know about this ancient light, both theoretically and observationally.
An analysis of dying cells reveals that they play an active part in modifying tissue shape by pulling on neighbouring cells. This induces neighbouring cells to contract at their apices, which results in tissue folding. See Letter p.245
High-resolution astronomical observations of a nearby molecular gas cloud have revealed a quadruplet of stars in the act of formation. The system is arguably the youngest multiple star system detected so far. See Letter p.213
The faithful propagation of species requires a complex balance of DNA-repair pathways to maintain genome integrity. New work sheds light on one such poorly understood pathway and its role in certain cancers. See Letters p.254 & p.258
A record of boron isotopes in fossils of microscopic plankton provides fresh evidence that some ocean regions were a source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when Earth warmed at the end of the last ice age. See Letter p.219
A protein released during hypothermia has been found to affect the progression of neurodegenerative disease in mice by sparing neurons from death and preserving the connections between them. See Letter p.236
A review of the phases of copper oxides (especially the ‘strange metal’), discussing their high-temperature superconductivity and their various forms of quantum matter, and the implications for fundamental theory.
Genome-wide association meta-analyses of waist-to-hip ratio adjusted for body mass index in more than 224,000 individuals identify 49 loci, 33 of which are new and many showing significant sexual dimorphism with a stronger effect in women; pathway analyses implicate adipogenesis, angiogenesis, transcriptional regulation and insulin resistance as processes affecting fat distribution.
A genome-wide association study and Metabochip meta-analysis of body mass index (BMI) detects 97 BMI-associated loci, of which 56 were novel, and many loci have effects on other metabolic phenotypes; pathway analyses implicate the central nervous system in obesity susceptibility and new pathways such as those related to synaptic function, energy metabolism, lipid biology and adipogenesis.
Grid cells are cells of the brain’s internal map of space that fire when an animal is in a location corresponding to the vertices of a hexagonal grid pattern tiling the entire environment; how the pattern is mapped onto the external environment has remained a mystery, however, new studies in rat reveal that the axes of the grid are determined by the boundaries of the external environment and provide insight into the rotation of the grid axis in relation to these boundaries.
Observations of a wide-separation quadruple system in the Perseus star-forming region reveal a young protostar and three gravitationally bound dense gas condensations; each condensation is expected to form a star and the closest pair will form a bound binary, while the quadruple stellar system itself is bound but unstable on timescales of 500,000 years.
Grains collected from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta mission come from a dusty crust that is predicted to be imminently shed as the comet nears the Sun; the grains are high in sodium and fluffy, not icy, suggesting that they are the precursors of interplanetary dust particles.
The boron isotope pH proxy in sediment-core planktic foraminifera is used as a tracer of oceanic CO2 outgassing to show that surface waters which derive partly from deep water upwelled in the Southern Ocean became a significant source of carbon to the atmosphere during the last deglaciation.
Observations of rapid, persistent elevation gains that occur on the ice surface above a subglacial lake as the lake is refilled with surface meltwater during the summer melt period in Greenland show that surface meltwater may be trapped and stored at the bed of an ice sheet, affecting ice dynamics downstream.
Argon and luminescence dating of fossil shell infills from Trinil in Java, where Homo erectus lived, reveals that the hominin-bearing deposits are younger than previously thought; perforated shells, a shell tool and an engraved shell indicate that Homo erectus ate freshwater mussels, used their shells as tools and was able to create abstract engravings.
Neuronal grid cells fire in a spatial grid pattern laid out across the surface of a familiar environment, however the role of environmental boundaries in the construction of this pattern is not well understood; this study shows that the grid pattern orients to the walls of polarized environments such as squares but not circles and that the hexagonal grid symmetry is permanently broken in highly polarized environments such as trapezoids.
Structural synaptic plasticity and remodelling are features of the healthy adult brain and are seen during hibernation; a hibernation-inspired model of mouse cooling used to study synaptic regeneration has identified the ‘cold-shock’ RNA-binding protein, RBM3, as a regulator of synaptic assembly, deficiency of which contributes to synapse loss in neurodegenerative disease.
Broad and deep tumour genome sequencing has shed new light on tumour heterogeneity and provided important insights into the evolution of metastases arising from different clones. There is an additional layer of complexity, in that tumour evolution may be influenced by selective pressure provided by therapy, in a similar fashion to that occurring in infectious diseases. Here we studied tumour genomic evolution in a patient (index patient) with metastatic breast cancer bearing an activating PIK3CA (phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase, catalytic subunit alpha, PI(3)Kα) mutation. The patient was treated with the PI(3)Kα inhibitor BYL719, which achieved a lasting clinical response, but the patient eventually became resistant to this drug (emergence of lung metastases) and died shortly thereafter. A rapid autopsy was performed and material from a total of 14 metastatic sites was collected and sequenced. All metastatic lesions, when compared to the pre-treatment tumour, had a copy loss of PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homolog) and those lesions that became refractory to BYL719 had additional and different PTEN genetic alterations, resulting in the loss of PTEN expression. To put these results in context, we examined six other patients also treated with BYL719. Acquired bi-allelic loss of PTEN was found in one of these patients, whereas in two others PIK3CA mutations present in the primary tumour were no longer detected at the time of progression. To characterize our findings functionally, we examined the effects of PTEN knockdown in several preclinical models (both in cell lines intrinsically sensitive to BYL719 and in PTEN-null xenografts derived from our index patient), which we found resulted in resistance to BYL719, whereas simultaneous PI(3)K p110β blockade reverted this resistance phenotype. We conclude that parallel genetic evolution of separate metastatic sites with different PTEN genomic alterations leads to a convergent PTEN-null phenotype resistant to PI(3)Kα inhibition.
Apoptotic cell death is required for morphogenesis of the developing leg joint of fruitflies; using this model system, the authors show here that within apoptotic cells a transient pulling force exerted through a highly dynamic apico-basal myosin II cable-like structure acts as a mechanical signal to increase tissue tension and modify tissue shape.
DEAD-box RNA helicase DDX21 is involved in both the transcription and RNA processing of ribosomal genes in human cells, sensing the transcriptional status of both RNA polymerase I and RNA polymerase II and associating with non-coding RNAs involved in ribonucleoprotein formation, possibly allowing for coordinated regulation of protein synthesis.
The alternative non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) machinery facilitates several genomic rearrangements, some of which can lead to cellular transformation. This error-prone repair pathway is triggered upon telomere de-protection to promote the formation of deleterious chromosome end-to-end fusions. Using next-generation sequencing technology, here we show that repair by alternative NHEJ yields non-TTAGGG nucleotide insertions at fusion breakpoints of dysfunctional telomeres. Investigating the enzymatic activity responsible for the random insertions enabled us to identify polymerase theta (Polθ; encoded by Polq in mice) as a crucial alternative NHEJ factor in mammalian cells. Polq inhibition suppresses alternative NHEJ at dysfunctional telomeres, and hinders chromosomal translocations at non-telomeric loci. In addition, we found that loss of Polq in mice results in increased rates of homology-directed repair, evident by recombination of dysfunctional telomeres and accumulation of RAD51 at double-stranded breaks. Lastly, we show that depletion of Polθ has a synergistic effect on cell survival in the absence of BRCA genes, suggesting that the inhibition of this mutagenic polymerase represents a valid therapeutic avenue for tumours carrying mutations in homology-directed repair genes.
Large-scale genomic studies have shown that half of epithelial ovarian cancers (EOCs) have alterations in genes regulating homologous recombination (HR) repair. Loss of HR accounts for the genomic instability of EOCs and for their cellular hyper-dependence on alternative poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP)-mediated DNA repair mechanisms. Previous studies have implicated the DNA polymerase θ (Polθ also known as POLQ, encoded by POLQ) in a pathway required for the repair of DNA double-strand breaks, referred to as the error-prone microhomology-mediated end-joining (MMEJ) pathway. Whether Polθ interacts with canonical DNA repair pathways to prevent genomic instability remains unknown. Here we report an inverse correlation between HR activity and Polθ expression in EOCs. Knockdown of Polθ in HR-proficient cells upregulates HR activity and RAD51 nucleofilament assembly, while knockdown of Polθ in HR-deficient EOCs enhances cell death. Consistent with these results, genetic inactivation of an HR gene (Fancd2) and Polq in mice results in embryonic lethality. Moreover, Polθ contains RAD51 binding motifs and it blocks RAD51-mediated recombination. Our results reveal a synthetic lethal relationship between the HR pathway and Polθ-mediated repair in EOCs, and identify Polθ as a novel druggable target for cancer therapy.