Reviews & Analysis

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  • Alzheimer’s disease is a disabling condition that disproportionately occurs after menopause. A study in mice shows that increased levels of follicle-stimulating hormone lead to characteristics of the disease — and that blocking action of this hormone prevents those features from developing.

    Research Briefing
  • Proteins adopt unstable, high-energy states that exist for fractions of a second but can have key biological roles. A new method of determining high-resolution structures of such states using a form of nuclear magnetic resonance reveals how small changes in protein shape are essential to their function.

    Research Briefing
  • Archaeologists have various hypotheses for how populations changed in Africa about 50,000 years ago, during the Later Stone Age transition. Now, the earliest available ancient-DNA sequences from sub-Saharan Africa reveal a complex Late Pleistocene population structure, pointing to large shifts in human movement and in patterns of social interaction.

    Research Briefing
  • Climate policies and greenhouse-gas emissions for the twenty-first century are modelled as the result of coupled feedback effects in the social, political and energy systems. Our models suggest that climate policies will increase in ambition and associated emissions reductions will probably accelerate, resulting in warming of 2 °C to 3 °C above 1880–1910 levels by 2100.

    Research Briefing
  • Night-time is usually a crucial period when fires lose energy, limiting their size and severity, and helping people to control their spread. But rapid night-time warming over the past several decades, combined with global increases in fire intensity at night, suggest that the naturally occurring brakes on fires are weakening.

    Research Briefing
  • The ultralow friction of water on extremely smooth carbon surfaces has been puzzling researchers for more than a decade. A new theory of the interface between a solid and a liquid shows that this phenomenon might be governed by quantum effects.

    Research Briefing
  • A combination of standard and new observational techniques has been used to detect the magnetic field of a molecular cloud — a region of the interstellar medium that collapses during star formation. The results suggest that such clouds are primed for collapse earlier than was typically assumed.

    Research Briefing
  • A molecular barcoding tool has been developed to trace the developmental descendants of radial glial cells — the neural progenitors of the human cerebral cortex. The technique shows that these cortical progenitors give rise to both excitatory neurons and interneurons in the human brain.

    Research Briefing
  • Researchers performed the largest genetic study of cholesterol levels so far by combining data from 201 studies in 35 countries involving 1.65 million people. Diversifying research participants improved the ability to identify genes controlling cholesterol levels and to predict levels across all ancestries.

    Research Briefing
  • Armoured dinosaurs are widely recognized for their tail weapons, which include paired spikes in stegosaurs and tail clubs in ankylosaurs. The discovery of Stegouros in Chile reveals a new kind of tail weapon, resembling an Aztec war club, and a lineage that split early from northern armoured dinosaurs.

    Research Briefing
  • Communication between neurons in the brain is generally associated with electrochemical signalling. Here we reveal that neurons can also communicate through the force generated by the enlargement of dendritic spines. This force is comparable to that of muscle contraction and might underlie learning and memory, suggesting that brain function is more mechanical than was previously thought.

    Research Briefing
  • Chemical synthesis, guided by crystal structures of antibiotics bound to the bacterial ribosome, has been used to discover a class of broad-spectrum antibiotics that overcomes bacterial multidrug resistance. Biochemical and crystallographic studies reveal the mechanism of action, including how one mode of resistance is circumvented.

    Research Briefing