Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Scanning electron micrograph of the bacterium Meiothermus ruber.

The hot-spring bacterium Meiothermus ruber has calcium ion channels similar to those found across the animal kingdom. Credit: Tindall et al./Stand Genomic Sci. (CC BY 2.5)

Molecular biology

Hardy microbes hint at primeval roots for a key animal protein

Complexes that are central to nerve-cell function might predate the split between bacteria and the lineage that led to more-complex organisms.

A vital structure found in the neurons of all animals might have originated in bacteria.

Cells’ outer membranes contain specialized proteins called ion channels, which open to allow ions into or out of the cell. In neurons, the opening of calcium ion channels can cause an influx of charge that creates a nerve signal.

A team led by Katsumasa Irie at Nagoya University in Japan looked for bacterial versions of calcium ion channels and identified one in a hot spring bacterium called Meiothermus ruber. Mutation of a single amino acid caused the bacterial ion channel to lose its preference for calcium and deliver other charged molecules, such as sodium, into a cell as well.

The same amino acid is found in many calcium ion channels in eukaryotes, organisms — such as animals — whose cells contain complex structures. This suggests that the channels originated in a common ancestor of bacteria and animals, the researchers say.

More Research Highlights...

Auroras on Jupiter

Jupiter’s aurora glows blue in this composite image. A newly detected radio signal might be the signature of a similar aurora on a planet in another solar system. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols, Univ. Leicester

Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.
Members of the "Ice Memory project" extract an ice core piece out of a drill machine

Scientists extract an ice core from the Col du Dome glacier near the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. A similar core documents changes in emissions of an ozone-depleting gas. Credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Ice on the Alps’s highest peak details a pollutant’s rise

A glacier on Mont Blanc provides a decades-long record of the use of bromine, which corrodes the ozone layer.
Jumping ant guarding pupae and larvae at the nest

The brain of an Indian jumping worker ant (above, guarding pupae and larvae) becomes smaller if she starts to lay eggs but can regrow to its old size if she stops reproducing. Credit: Martin Dohrn/Nature Picture Library

Neuroscience

Ants shrink their brains for motherhood — but can enlarge them when egg-laying ends

Brain volume plummets in ‘gamergate’ ants that gain the ability to reproduce, but rises again with a fall in fertility.
A health worker puts on his personal protective equipment

A health worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to care for people infected with Ebola virus during the 2018–20 outbreak, which prompted an extensive genomic analysis. Credit: John Wessels/AFP/Getty

Genomics

An unprecedented genomic analysis helped to curb an Ebola outbreak

Despite extraordinary challenges, scientists managed to sequence a high percentage of Ebola virus genomes from a deadly wave of infections.
Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links