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The Kavli Prize 2018

The Kavli Prize is awarded by a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Sciences, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and the Kavli Foundation. It recognizes seminal work of scientists in astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience, which respectively study the biggest, the smallest and the most complex environments in the universe.

The 2018 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics has been awarded to Ewine van Dishoeck for her seminal work on revealing the chemical and physical processes in interstellar clouds, where stars and planets form

The 2018 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer A. Doudna and Virginijus Šikšnys, for the invention of CRISPR-Cas9, the revolutionary nanotool for editing DNA

The 2018 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience has been awarded to A. James Hudspeth, Robert Fettiplace and Christine Petit for their scientific discoveries of the molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing

This Collection, put together by editors from Nature AstronomyNature NanotechnologyNature Neuroscience and Nature Reviews Neuroscience, includes papers by the 2018 Kavli Prize Laureates published across the Nature Research journal portfolio.

Astrophysics

Chloromethane (CH3Cl) has been observed towards a low-mass protostar and comet 67P, making it the first organohalogen detected in space. The species was previously considered to be a biomarker, but the authors suggest viable alternative abiotic formation routes.

Letter | | Nature Astronomy

The first extraterrestrial detections of a member of the organohalogen family of molecules have been made towards comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and low-mass protostar IRAS 16293-2422. Chloromethane, considered to be a biomarker, can form efficiently abiotically.

News & Views | | Nature Astronomy

Giant planets like Jupiter need a large reservoir of gas to grow to full size. New observations indicate that such planetary nurseries last twice as long as previously thought.

News & Views | | Nature

The mass of a protoplanetary disk is a key influence on its likely fate, and a new way of estimating that mass, requiring fewer assumptions than other methods, should aid these studies. For planets to have formed, our Solar System at birth required a minimum disk mass of about 0.01 solar masses within around 100 astronomical units of its centre. This study reports the detection of the fundamental rotational transition of hydrogen deuteride (HD) in the circumstellar disk of the star TW Hydrae. Distribution of this gas mirrors that of molecular hydrogen, and its spectral emission is thought to trace the total mass. Its presence, together with modelling data, implies a disk mass of more than 0.05 solar masses, sufficient to form a planetary system like our own. At 3–10 million years old, TW Hydrae is considered old for a protoplanetary disk, yet it is still young enough to develop into a planetary system.

Letter | | Nature

Molecular oxygen (O2) has been detected on icy bodies in the Solar System, including the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but until now it has not been detected in a comet. Andre Bieler et al. report the detection and in situ measurement of O2 in the coma of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, made by the Rosetta spacecraft's ROSINA instrument between September 2014 and March 2015. The data reveal local abundances of O2 between 1% to 10% relative to H2O. The O2/H2O ratio is consistent throughout the coma and does not change systematically with distance from the Sun, suggesting that primordial O2 was incorporated into the nucleus during the comet's formation. Current Solar System formation models do not predict conditions that would allow this to occur.

Letter | | Nature

Our inventory of the molecular universe is continually progressing. Our understanding of the astrochemistry behind it will flourish if we are mindful of funding experimental and theoretical efforts as well as observational.

Editorial | | Nature Astronomy

The idea that comets once seeded the early Earth with the water and organics needed for life to originate has been widely discussed. This raises the question of whether the composition of comets — a reliable indicator of the composition of the solar nebula — is unique to the Solar System or commonly accompanies planet formation. Here Karin Öberg et al. report the detection of cyanides — CH3CN, HC3N and HCN — in the protoplanetary disk around the young star MWC 480, an analogue to the solar nebula. The abundance ratios of these nitrogen-bearing organics in the gas-phase are similar to those in comets, implying that complex organics accompany simpler volatiles in protoplanetary disks, and that the prebiotic chemistry present in the young Solar System is not unique.

Letter | | Nature

The idea that comets once seeded the early Earth with the water and organics needed for life to originate has been widely discussed. This raises the question of whether the composition of comets — a reliable indicator of the composition of the solar nebula — is unique to the Solar System or commonly accompanies planet formation. Here Karin Öberg et al. report the detection of cyanides — CH3CN, HC3N and HCN — in the protoplanetary disk around the young star MWC 480, an analogue to the solar nebula. The abundance ratios of these nitrogen-bearing organics in the gas-phase are similar to those in comets, implying that complex organics accompany simpler volatiles in protoplanetary disks, and that the prebiotic chemistry present in the young Solar System is not unique.

News & Views | | Nature

In interstellar clouds, reactions that have an activation barrier have previously been considered too slow to be significant because of the low temperatures experienced. However, large enhancements in the rate coefficient for the reaction of OH with methanol have now been observed at temperatures below 100 K. A mechanism involving tunnelling has been proposed.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

Chemical reactions with activation barriers generally slow to a halt in the extreme cold of dense interstellar clouds. Low-temperature experiments on the reaction of OH with methanol have now shown that below 200 K there is a major acceleration in the rate that can only be explained by enhanced quantum mechanical tunnelling through the barrier.

News & Views | | Nature Chemistry

The solar wind, cometary ices, and inner Solar System bodies exhibit distinct nitrogen isotopic compositions. A synthesis of these analyses suggests that these distinct reservoirs may be the result of early fractionation processes.

Review Article | | Nature Geoscience

Comets are believed to be aggregates of 'dirty snow' that formed at about the same time as the Solar System. The similarity between the composition of cometary and interstellar ices is striking and hints at an interstellar origin. However, clear differences exist: notably molecular nitrogen (N2) is deficient in comets compared with molecular clouds. Or so it was thought. Using a new technique, Maret et al. measured nitrogen abundance in a dense molecular cloud. Instead of finding a preponderance of molecular nitrogen, it is the atomic form that dominates. This discovery underlines the similarity between the chemical composition of comets, meteorites, interstellar dust and molecular clouds. And as nitrogen fractionation is greater for atoms than for molecules, isotopic anomalies observed in meteorites and interstellar dust particles are also accounted for.

Letter | | Nature

The rotational state of a molecule is not generally considered to play a role in how fast it reacts; however, when the temperature is low quantum effects become more important. Now, it is shown that at low temperatures rotationally excited H2 molecules react with He faster than non-rotating ground-state molecules — a process mediated by stronger long-range attraction.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

Observations of the young, solar-type protostar TMC1A, taken with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in high-angular-resolution mode, provide new data on the outflows of molecular gas associated with such systems. Per Bjerkeli et al. report images of carbon monoxide gas that is ejected from a region extending up to a radial distance of 25 astronomical units from the central protostar. Their data also show that angular momentum is removed from an extended region of the disk. These findings are consistent with the 'disk wind' model, in which the outflowing gas is launched by an extended disk wind from a Keplerian disk.

Letter | | Nature

Nanoscience

CRISPR is a microbial RNA-based immune system protecting against viral and plasmid invasions. The CRISPR system is thought to rely on cleavage of a precursor RNA transcript by Cas endonucleases, but not all species with CRISPR-type immunity encode Cas proteins. A new study reveals an alternative pathway for CRISPR activation in the human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes, in which a trans-encoded small RNA directs processing of precursor RNA into crRNAs through endogenous RNase III and the CRISPR-associated Csn1 protein.

Article | | Nature

One of the main concerns about the use of CRISPR in genomic editing is the possibility of 'off-target' events. Scientists have been modifying the central enzyme involved in CRISPR editing, Cas9 or its homologues, to reduce this unwanted property. Jennifer Doudna and colleagues describe a new version of this nuclease, HypaCas9, which enables more accurate editing, without substantial loss of efficiency on the desired target.

Letter | | Nature

The CRISPR genome editing technology now used widely in mutant analysis in a variety of organisms is only a few years old, and the technology is still being optimized to enhance its specificity and efficiency. The central catalytic activity, RNA-guided cleavage that is directed against the genomic DNA, is carried out by the Cas9 endonuclease. Jennifer Doudna and colleagues use a fluorescence-based approach to define new features of Cas9 that control the specificity of RNA-guided DNA cleavage in CRISPR genome-editing technology.

Letter | | Nature

The use of CRISPR–Cas technology for gene editing has rapidly become widespread. Here, Corn and colleagues discuss the applications of this revolutionary tool in drug discovery and development, describing how it could make substantial contributions to target identification and validation, animal models and cell-based therapies.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Drug Discovery

The authors present a CRISPR-library-based approach for highly efficient and precise genome-wide variant engineering. They examine the functional consequences of premature termination codons within all annotated essential genes in yeast.

Letter | | Nature Genetics

Nir Hacohen, Bruce Walker, David Sabatini, Eric Lander and colleagues perform a CRISPR–Cas9-based screen for host factors that are required for HIV infection. They identify two known and three novel factors that are necessary for viral infection but that are not required for cell viability, making them potential targets for antiviral therapy.

Article | | Nature Genetics

Using an adeno-associated virus–mediated, direct in vivo CRISPR screen, the authors mapped a quantitative landscape of glioblastoma suppressors. Their study revealed gene combinations that functionally drive gliomagenesis from normal glia in native mouse brains. The authors further demonstrate that mutational background can differentially influence gene expression and chemotherapeutic resistance.

Article | | Nature Neuroscience

Owing to their programmable ability to cut specific nucleic acid sequences, CRISPR–Cas systems have been used for precise genome engineering. In this Review, the authors discuss the chemistry and molecular mechanisms of interference by single-effector CRISPR–Cas proteins.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Chemistry

Neuroscience

Auditory hair cells contain mechanotransduction channels that are activated by sound. The authors show that Piezo2, a mechanotransduction channel important for touch perception, is expressed in auditory hair cells. Surprisingly, Piezo2 is not the mechanotransduction channel essential for auditory perception and is instead observed after damage to hair cells.

Article | | Nature Neuroscience

Hearing is initiated by the movement of tiny bundles of cilia located at the top of hair cells inside the ear. Despite being surrounded by the viscous fluid that bathes the inner ear, these stereocilia remain sensitive to movements of atomic dimension. The mechanism that makes this possible by eliminating most of the viscous drag in the liquid between the stereocilia has now been demonstrated. Analysis of the balance of forces in bullfrog hair cell stereocilia on a subnanometre scale shows that, at the frequencies used in hearing, most stereocilia inside the hair bundle are shielded from the external liquid and move virtually as one.

Letter | | Nature

The mammalian ear, or rather its auditory organ the cochlea, is a remarkably sensitive and finely tuned acousto-electrical transducer. It also markedly distorts sounds, and counter-intuitively it is this latter characteristic that gives rise to the masking effect that improves speech intelligibility in the human ear. Until now, the origin of these distortions was unknown. The mammalian cochlea possesses two types of hair cells — inner and outer hair cells. In experiments in mice, Verpy et al. show that it is the outer hair cells that introduce the distortion; the nonlinearity arises in the 'top connectors' between outer hair cell sterocilia known as, and more specifically, in a protein called stereocilin.

Letter | | Nature

Marina Cavazzana-Calvo and colleagues report mutations in the gene encoding mitochondrial adenylate kinase 2 in reticular dysgenesis, the most severe form of inborn combined immunodeficiency, characterized by the absence of granulocytes and almost complete deficiency of lymphocytes in peripheral blood.

Letter | | Nature Genetics

This review describes how the genetic causes of the many forms of human deafness have provided insight into the molecular mechanisms of auditory transduction. In combination with mouse models, these genetic studies have elucidated the mechanisms behind the formation and functioning of the hair bundle as a mechanical transducer.

Review Article | | Nature Neuroscience

Mechanically sensitive transducer channels are responsible for the detection of sound-induced hair cell vibrations. However, the location of these channels in the stereociliary bundle has been unclear. Using high-speed calcium imaging, this study demonstrates that there are no transduction channels in the tallest row of stereocilia in the mammalian cochlea. Instead, these channels are more likely to be present in the bottom stereociliary rows.

Article | | Nature Neuroscience

Cochlear hair cells detect sound vibrations and generate force to enhance auditory sensitivity and frequency selectivity. Fettiplace and Hackney describe proteins involved in the sensory and motor functions of outer hair cells, presenting evidence for two types of force production.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Neuroscience