The Southern (SWR) and Northern (NWR) are two subspecies of the White Rhinoceros with the NWR being almost extinct. Here, using assisted reproduction technology, the authors produce and cryopreserve SWR purebred and NWR-SWR hybrid embryos developed to the blastocyst stage, and also generate embryonic stem cell lines, in an attempt to save genes of the NWR.
Top 50: Life and Biological Sciences
We are pleased to share with you the 50 most read Nature Communications life and biological sciences articles* published in 2018. Featuring authors from around the world, these papers highlight valuable research from an international community.
Browse all Top 50 subject area collections here.
*Based on data from altmetric.com, covering January-December 2018
Cell arrangement in the plane of epithelia is well studied, but its three-dimensional packing is largely unknown. Here the authors model curved epithelia and predict that cells adopt a geometrical shape they call “scutoid”, resulting in different apical and basal neighbours, and confirm the presence of scutoids in curved tissues.
Though we are often friends with people similar to ourselves, it is unclear if neural responses to perceptual stimuli are also similar. Here, authors show that the similarity of neural responses evoked by a range of videos was highest for close friends and decreased with increasing social distance.
Study of 300,486 individuals identifies 148 independent genetic loci influencing general cognitive function
Cognitive function is associated with health and important life outcomes. Here, the authors perform a genome-wide association study for general cognitive function in 300,486 individuals and identify genetic loci that implicate neural and cell developmental pathways in this trait.
Archaeopteryx had a mix of traits seen in non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds, leading to debate on whether it had powered flight. Here, Voeten et al. compare wing bone architecture from Archaeopteryx and both flying and non-flying archosaurs, supporting that Archaeopteryx had powered flight but with a different stroke than that of modern birds.
Hunting and harvesting are generally expected to select for faster life histories in the exploited species. Here, the authors analyse data from a hunted population of brown bears in Sweden and show that regulations protecting females with dependent young lead hunting to favor prolonged maternal care.
Memory lapses can occur due to ineffective encoding, but it is unclear if targeted brain stimulation can improve memory performance. Here, authors use a closed-loop system to decode and stimulate periods of ineffective encoding, showing that stimulation of lateral temporal cortex can enhance memory.
Natural hair colour in Europeans is a complex genetic trait. Here, the authors carry out a genome-wide association study using UK BioBank data, suggesting that in combination with pigmentation genes, variants with roles in hair texture and growth can affect hair colouration or our perception of it.
Diffusion markers of dendritic density and arborization in gray matter predict differences in intelligence
Previous studies suggest that individual differences in intelligence correlate with circuit complexity and dendritic arborization in the brain. Here the authors use NODDI, a diffusion MRI technique, to confirm that neurite density and arborization are inversely related to measures of intelligence.
Industrial brewing yeast engineered for the production of primary flavor determinants in hopped beer
Production of aromatic monoterpene molecules in hop flowers is affected by genetic, environmental, and processing factors. Here, the authors engineer brewer’s yeast for the production of linalool and geraniol, and show pilot-scale beer produced by engineered strains reconstitutes some qualities of hop flavor.
A bony-crested Jurassic dinosaur with evidence of iridescent plumage highlights complexity in early paravian evolution
A number of paravian dinosaurs have been described from the Jurassic Yanliao biota, but these have tended to be morphologically similar to Archaeopteryx. Here, Hu. describe the new paravian dinosaur, Caihong juji gen. et sp. nov., which possesses a suite of unusual skeletal and feather characteristics.
Testosterone is believed to be involved in social rank-related behavior. Here, the authors show that one dose of testosterone increases men’s preference for “high status” goods and brands, suggesting a role for testosterone in modern consumer behavior in men.
Poor adherence to daily antiretrovirals can significantly affect treatment efficacy, but oral long-acting antiretrovirals are currently lacking. Here, the authors develop a once-weekly oral dosage form for anti-HIV drugs, assess its pharmacokinetics in pigs, and model its impact on viral resistance and disease epidemics.
Anemia has a global prevalence of over 2 billion people and is diagnosed via blood-based laboratory test. Here the authors describe a smartphone app that can estimate hemoglobin levels and detect anemia by analyzing pictures of fingernail beds taken with a smartphone and without the need of any external equipment.
Loneliness markedly increases mortality and morbidity, yet the factors triggering loneliness remain largely unknown. This study shows that sleep loss leads to a neurobehavioral phenotype of human social separation and loneliness, one that is transmittable to non-sleep-deprived individuals.
Gender differences in individual variation in academic grades fail to fit expected patterns for STEM
Men are over-represented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce even though girls outperform boys in these subjects at school. Here, the authors cast doubt on one leading explanation for this paradox, the ‘variability hypothesis’.
Online misinformation is a threat to a well-informed electorate and undermines democracy. Here, the authors analyse the spread of articles on Twitter, find that bots play a major role in the spread of low-credibility content and suggest control measures for limiting the spread of misinformation.
Giant viruses are the largest viruses of the known virosphere and their genetic analysis can provide insights into virus evolution. Here, the authors discover Tupanvirus, a unique giant virus that has an unusually long tail and contains the largest translational apparatus of the known virosphere.
Genome-wide meta-analysis implicates mediators of hair follicle development and morphogenesis in risk for severe acne
Acne vulgaris is a chronic inflammation of the skin, the genetic basis of which is incompletely understood. Here, Petridis et al. perform GWAS and meta-analysis for acne in 26,722 individuals and identify 12 novel risk loci that implicate structure and maintenance of the skin in severe acne risk.
Inundation and erosion could make many atoll islands uninhabitable over the next century. Here the authors present an analysis of change in the atoll nation of Tuvalu that shows a 2.9% increase in land area over the past four decades, with 74% of islands increasing in size, despite rising sea levels.
Magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound with injected microbubbles has been used to temporarily open the blood–brain barrier (BBB) in animal models of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Here, the authors use this technology to non-invasively open the BBB in 5 patients with mild-to-moderate AD in a phase I trial, and show that the procedure is safe.
Cultural hitchhiking and competition between patrilineal kin groups explain the post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck
A population bottleneck 5000-7000 years ago in human males, but not females, has been inferred across several African, European and Asian populations. Here, Zeng and colleagues synthesize theory and data to suggest that competition among patrilineal kin groups produced the bottleneck pattern.
Control of transgene expression should ideally be easy and with minimal side effects. Here the authors present a synthetic biology-based approach in which the caffeine in coffee regulates a genetic circuit controlling glucagon-like peptide 1 expression in diabetic mice.
Microbes in the cow rumen are crucial for the breakdown of plant material. Here, Stewart et al. assemble over 900 bacterial and archaeal genomes from the cow rumen microbiome, revealing new species and genes encoding enzymes with potential roles in carbohydrate metabolism.
Genome-wide association study of depression phenotypes in UK Biobank identifies variants in excitatory synaptic pathways
The UK Biobank provides data for three depression-related phenotypes. Here, Howard et al. perform a genome-association study for broad depression, probable major depressive disorder (MDD) and hospital record-coded MDD in up to 322,580 UK Biobank participants which highlights excitatory synaptic pathways.
Fungal networks shape dynamics of bacterial dispersal and community assembly in cheese rind microbiomes
Interactions with other microbes may inhibit or facilitate the dispersal of bacteria. Here, Zhang et al. use cheese rind microbiomes as a model to show that physical networks created by filamentous fungi can affect the dispersal of motile bacteria and thus shape the diversity of microbial communities.
Epidemiology dates back to the Age of Pericles in 5th Century B.C., but its standing as a ‘true’ science in 21st century is often questioned. This is unexpected, given that epidemiology directly impacts lives and our reliance on it will only increase in a changing world.
Gluten-free diets are increasingly common in the general population. Here, the authors report the results of a randomised cross-over trial involving middle-aged, healthy Danish adults, showing evidence that a low-gluten diet leads to gut microbiome changes, possibly due to variations in dietary fibres.
The correction of genetic defects in utero could allow for improved outcomes of gene therapy. Here, the authors demonstrate safe delivery of nanoparticles to fetal mouse tissues, and show that nanoparticles containing peptide nucleic acids to edit the beta-globin gene are effective in a mouse model of beta-thalassemia.
RNA levels in post-mortem tissue can differ greatly from those before death. Studying the effect of post-mortem interval on the transcriptome in 36 human tissues, Ferreira et al. find that the response to death is largely tissue-specific and develop a model to predict time since death based on RNA data.
Gimap5-dependent inactivation of GSK3β is required for CD4+ T cell homeostasis and prevention of immune pathology
Loss of function GIMAP5 mutation is associated with lymphopenia, but how it mediates T cell homeostasis is unclear. Here the authors study Gimap5−/− mice and a patient with GIMAP5 deficiency to show how this GTPAse negatively regulates GSK3β activity to prevent DNA damage and cell death.
How different Neandertal morphology was from that of modern humans has been a subject of long debate. Here, the authors develop a 3D virtual reconstruction of the thorax of an adult male Neandertal, showing similar size to modern humans, yet with greater respiratory capacity due to its different shape.
The adult mammalian heart has a limited cardiomyogenic capacity. Here the authors show that intensive exercise leads to a 4.6-fold increase in murine cardiomyocyte proliferation requiring the expression of miR-222, and that exercise induces an extended cardiomyogenic response in the murine heart after infarction.
Relatively well conserved domains of influenza A virus (IAV) proteins are potential candidates for the development of a universal IAV vaccine. Here, Deng et al. combine two such conserved antigens (M2e and HA stalk) in a double-layered protein nanoparticle and show that it protects against divergent IAVs in mice.
While successful mentors tend to train successful students in academic career, it’s unclear how mentorship determines chances of a success in a trainee. Here, Liénard and colleagues analyze approximately 20 K mentor/trainee relationships in life sciences, and find that success of trainees is associated with an intellectual synthesis between their mentors’ research.
Developing new technologies for the neuromodulation of the vagus nerve can enable therapeutic strategies for body weight control in obese patients. Here, the authors present a battery-free self-powered implantable vagus nerve stimulation system that electrically responds to stomach movement.
Increasing evidence suggest that olfactory receptors can carry additional functions besides olfaction. Here, Chéret et al. show that stimulation of the olfactory receptor ORT2A4 by the odorant Sandalore® stimulates growth of human scalp hair follicles ex vivo, suggesting the use of ORT2A4-targeting odorants as hair growth-promoting agents.
A diminutive perinate European Enantiornithes reveals an asynchronous ossification pattern in early birds
Fossil juvenile Mesozoic birds are exceedingly rare and can provide important insight into the early evolution of avian development. Here, Knoll et al. describe one of the smallest known Mesozoic avians, which indicates a clade-wide asynchronous pattern of osteogenesis and great variation in basal bird hatchling size and skeletal maturation tempo.
Pharmaceuticals are widespread contaminants in surface waters. Here, Richmond and colleagues show that dozens of pharmaceuticals accumulate in food chains of streams, including in predators in adjacent terrestrial ecosystems.
Olfaction, the sense of smell, may have originally evolved to aid navigation in space, but there is no direct evidence of a link between olfaction and navigation in humans. Here the authors show that olfaction and spatial memory abilities are correlated and rely on similar brain regions in humans.
Neocortical circuits exhibit diverse cell types that can be difficult to build into computational models. Here the authors employ a genetic algorithm-based parameter optimization to generate multi-compartment Hodgkin-Huxley models for diverse cell types in the Allen Cell Types Database.
People vary in the extent to which they feel better after taking an inert, placebo, treatment, but the basis for individual placebo response is unclear. Here, the authors show how brain structural and functional variables, as well as personality traits, predict placebo response in those with chronic back pain.
Simplified neuron models, such as generalized leaky integrate-and-fire (GLIF) models, are extensively used in network modeling. Here the authors systematically generate and compare GLIF models of varying complexity for their ability to classify cell types in the Allen Cell Types Database and faithfully reproduce spike trains.
Dietary fatty acids have different effects on human health. Here, the authors show that ingestion of the fatty acid C18:0, but not of C16:0, rapidly leads to fusion of mitochondria and fatty acid oxidation in humans, possibly explaining the health benefits of C18:0.
The generation of functional skeletal muscle tissue from human pluripotent stem cells has not been reported. Here, the authors describe engineering of contractile skeletal muscle bundles in culture, which become vascularized and maintain functionality when transplanted into mice.
Topical ferumoxytol nanoparticles disrupt biofilms and prevent tooth decay in vivo via intrinsic catalytic activity
Ferumoxytol is a nanoparticle formulation approved for systemic use to treat iron deficiency. Liu et al. show that topical use of ferumoxytol, in combination with low concentrations of H2O2, disrupts intractable oral biofilms and prevents tooth decay in vitro and in an animal model.
Royal jelly is the queen-maker for the honey bee that also has effects on longevity, fertility, and regeneration in mammals. Here the authors provide evidence that its major protein component Royalactin, and the mammalian structural analog Regina, maintain pluripotency in mouse ESCs by activating a ground-state pluripotency-like gene network.
Deoxyribose and deoxysugar derivatives from photoprocessed astrophysical ice analogues and comparison to meteorites
Sugars are known to form from the UV photoprocessing of ices under astrophysical conditions. Here, the authors report the detection of deoxyribose, the sugar of DNA, and other deoxysugars from the UV photoprocessing of H2O:CH3OH ice mixtures, which are compared with materials from carbonaceous meteorites.
Speciation reversal is known mainly from recently diverged lineages that have come into secondary contact following anthropogenic disturbance. Here, Kearns et al. use genomic and phylogenomic analyses to show that the Common Raven (Corvus corax) was formed by the ancient fusion of two non-sister lineages of ravens.
Yersinia pestis has caused infections (plague) in humans since the Early Bronze Age (5000 years ago). Here, Spyrou et al. reconstruct Y. pestis genomes from Late Bronze Age individuals, and find genomic evidence compatible with flea-mediated transmission causing bubonic plague.