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Volume 520 Issue 7545, 2 April 2015

A representation of NMR-readable nanosensors, each consisting of pairs of magnetic disks sandwiching a swellable hydrogel. The fluorescent and plasmonic probes that have been so successful in the life sciences function poorly in locations where light does not penetrate, such as through many biological tissues. Gary Zabow et al. have developed alternative biocompatible probes that could function as radio-frequency analogues to optically based fluorescent and plasmonic sensors. These sensors are magnetic nanoassemblies, detectable down to femtomolar levels, that rapidly change shape in response to stimuli, such as a change in pH in their local environment. Shape changes translate into NMR spectral shifts with potential sensitivities approaching a million times greater than those of traditional magnetic resonance spectroscopies. Cover image: G Zabow


  • Editorial |

    A policy change that could discourage UK government scientists from talking to the media is a backwards step. All researchers need to speak up to put science on the political agenda.


  • Editorial |

    The world must follow Brazil’s lead and do more to protect and restore forests.

  • Editorial |

    A passive device that augments calf muscles improves on natural selection’s best effort.

World View

  • World View |

    The 'war on cancer' has run off course. Efforts must refocus on the best interests of patients, says Colin Macilwain.

    • Colin Macilwain

Research Highlights

Social Selection

Seven Days

  • Seven Days |

    The week in science: NASA’s controversial space rock plan; global renewable energy boost; and Stephen Hawking trademarks his name.



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    Brazil has waged a successful war on tropical deforestation, and other countries are trying to follow its lead. But victory remains fragile.

    • Jeff Tollefson
  • News Feature |

    Transfusions are one of the most overused treatments in modern medicine, at a cost of billions of dollars. Researchers are working out how to cut back.

    • Emily Anthes


Books & Arts


News & Views

  • News & Views |

    The Hong–Ou–Mandel effect, whereby two identical quantum particles launched into the two input ports of a 'beam-splitter' always bunch together in the same output port, has now been demonstrated for helium-4 atoms. See Letter p.66

    • Lindsay J. LeBlanc
  • News & Views |

    An iron-dependent form of cell death called ferroptosis has been implicated as a component of the tumour-suppressor activity of p53, providing fresh insight into how this protein prevents cancer development. See Article p.57

    • Kathryn T. Bieging
    • Laura D. Attardi
  • News & Views |

    A meta-analysis at a local scale reveals that land-use change has caused species richness to decline by approximately 8.1% on average globally, mainly as a result of large increases in croplands and pastures. See Article p.45

    • Brian McGill
  • News & Views |

    Researchers have found a mechanism that prevents newly forming giant-planet cores from spiralling in towards their parent stars. The result may explain why planets such as Saturn and Jupiter are where they are today. See Letter p.63

    • Martin J. Duncan
  • News & Views |

    The discovery of peptides encoded by what were thought to be non-coding – or 'junk' – regions of precursors to microRNA sequences reveals a new layer of gene regulation. These sequences may not be junk, after all. See Letter p.90

    • Peter M. Waterhouse
    • Roger P. Hellens
  • News & Views |

    Emerging evidence indicates that dragons can no longer be dismissed as creatures of legend and fantasy, and that anthropogenic effects on the world's climate may inadvertently be paving the way for the resurgence of these beasts.

    • Andrew J. Hamilton
    • Robert M. May
    • Edward K. Waters


  • Article |

    Analysis of a global data set of local biodiversity comparisons reveals an average 13.6% reduction in species richness and 10.7% reduction in abundance as a result of past human land use, and projections based on these data under a business-as-usual land-use scenario predict further substantial loss this century, unless strong mitigation efforts are undertaken to reverse the effects.

    • Tim Newbold
    • Lawrence N. Hudson
    • Andy Purvis
  • Article |

    In severe autism, deleterious variants at conserved residues are enriched in patients arising from female-enriched multiplex families, enhancing the detection of key autism genes in modest numbers of cases.

    • Tychele N. Turner
    • Kamal Sharma
    • Aravinda Chakravarti
  • Article |

    p53 suppresses expression of SLC7A11, a key component of the cystine/glutamate amino acid transport machinery, leading to inhibition of cystine uptake and promoting ferroptosis, an iron-dependent form of cell death.

    • Le Jiang
    • Ning Kon
    • Wei Gu


  • Letter |

    Modelling of planetary formation reveals that asymmetries in the temperature rise associated with accretion produce a torque that counteracts inward migration, suggesting how the conditions for giant-planet formation may arise.

    • Pablo Benítez-Llambay
    • Frédéric Masset
    • Judit Szulágyi
  • Letter |

    The Hong–Ou–Mandel effect—in which two indistinguishable photons that enter a 50:50 beam-splitter are found only as a pair at one of the two outputs, leading to a dip in the coincidence rate of the detectors—is now realized with 4He atoms instead of photons; this opens the way to performing basic quantum-physics experiments with mechanical observables of massive particles.

    • R. Lopes
    • A. Imanaliev
    • C. I. Westbrook
  • Letter |

    A miniature laser is reported that uses two-dimensional tungsten diselenide as the active medium, which is placed on a photonic crystal membrane that acts as the laser cavity; the laser emits visible light, with an ultralow pump threshold.

    • Sanfeng Wu
    • Sonia Buckley
    • Xiaodong Xu
  • Letter |

    A new analysis of a 415-million-year-old fossil fish head originally described as from an early osteichthyan (bony fish) puts it instead as the sister group of the gnathosomes (jawed vertebrates), and suggests that the extinct acanthodians were relatives of cartilaginous fishes.

    • Sam Giles
    • Matt Friedman
    • Martin D. Brazeau
  • Letter |

    Plant primary microRNA (miRNA) transcripts (pri-miRNAs) are not just a source of miRNAs but can also encode regulatory peptides (miPEPs) that enhance the accumulation, and so the effect, of the corresponding mature miRNAs—an observation that may have agronomical applications.

    • Dominique Lauressergues
    • Jean-Malo Couzigou
    • Jean-Philippe Combier
  • Letter |

    α-MSH and AgRP, two hypothalamus-derived peptides with opposing actions on the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R), modulate neurons driving feeding behaviour; although previous downstream mechanisms of cellular modulation by these peptides have been determined, here α-MSH and AgRP are shown to regulate neural activity by coupling MC4R to Kir7.1 potassium channels and closing or opening them, respectively.

    • Masoud Ghamari-Langroudi
    • Gregory J. Digby
    • Roger D. Cone
  • Letter |

    Meiotic recombination is initiated by a fairly uniform distribution of hundreds of DNA double-strand breaks catalysed by the Spo11 protein; here, Tel1 (orthologue of human ATM) is shown to be required for the localized inhibition that prevents double-strand breaks from forming close to one another.

    • Valerie Garcia
    • Stephen Gray
    • Matthew J. Neale


  • Toolbox |

    Consumer-oriented websites allow researchers to compare the merits of scientific journals and review their publishing experiences.

    • Jeffrey M. Perkel



  • Feature |

    Partnering with a writer on a book can bring literary panache to scientific stories.

    • Roberta Kwok



  • Futures |

    Ten commandments for a New Dawn.

    • Jacey Bedford

Brief Communications Arising

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