Next Week's News

    Your chance to tell us what you want to read, and why.

    Welcome to an experiment. In the article below you will find brief descriptions of three papers that have caught our interest at Nature. Next week, one of our reporters will dig into one of these papers in order to report in more detail about the way the work was done, what the implications are, and more. The question is: which of these possibilities would you like us to investigate further? Tell us in the comments field.

    Last week you chose to hear more about the surprising lack of dust in the Southern oceans; the resulting article will be up tomorrow.

    This week: Watery xenon, keeping voles off the grass, and imprinting mRNAs.

    One: Not so noble

    Noble gases are so called because their atoms do not, in general, stoop to forming bonds with the hoi polloi. However, in the right circumstances they can be brought down from their aloof indifference. HXeOXeH, a molecule recently prepared and identified by Leonid Khriachtchev at the University of Helsinki in Finland and his colleagues, takes the chemistry of these elements as far as it has ever gone — and may pave the way for further development.

    The new compound can be thought of as a water molecule in which xenon atoms have been inserted into the bonds between the oxygen atom and its two attendant hydrogens. The team reports in the Journal of the American Chemical Society that HXeOXeH forms in a photochemical reaction between xenon and water at temperatures of 40 to 45 kelvin. The research opens up the possibility of ‘noble polymers’ — chains of alternating xenon and oxygen atoms — which might have novel properties.

    Two: Grass versus voles

    The booming and busting of vole populations may be driven by grasses responding to the furry creatures' herbivory. So say Fergus Massey of the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, and his co-workers, who studied interactions between the vole Microtus agrestis and its main winter food source, Deschampsia caespitosa, at four sites in a forest in northern England.

    Grasses contained the most silica where the density of voles had been high in the previous spring but was declining during the study period. Meanwhile, little silica was found where the vole population was increasing during the study period but had been low in spring the year before. In Biology Letters , Massey and his colleagues propose that munching voles prompt grasses to store more silica, which reduces the ease with which voles can digest the plants. So vole growth and reproduction rates fall, and the population tumbles.

    Three: distinctive tails

    Cells 'tag' each newly synthesized RNA with a tail of adenine nucleotides to make the RNA more stable and prepare it for life outside the nucleus. Rebecca Oakey of King’s College London and her colleagues report in Genes and Development that, for a particular mouse gene, the choice of tagging site correlates with the extent to which the relevant DNA carries methyl groups. This methylation is a form of ‘epigenetic imprinting’ — a propensity for a particular copy of a gene to be expressed or not that is, itself, inherited. This is the first evidence that epigenetic imprinting can affect the composition of RNA transcripts in this way.

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    Next Week's News. Nature (2008).

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