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Volume 588 Issue 7838, 17 December 2020

The path to flight

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight, but tracing their exact evolutionary origins has proved to be difficult. In this week’s issue, Martin Ezcurra and his colleagues help to plug that gap by showing that a group of long-limbed, gracile creatures called lagerpetids, such as Ixalerpeton polesinensis shown in an artist’s impression on the cover, are very likely to be the sister group of pterosaurs. Using micro-computed tomography scans and 3D reconstructions of skeletal remains, the researchers were able to identify unique features, such as the shape of the inner ear, that lagerpetids share with pterosaurs. Although the exact transition between land-dwelling and flying vertebrates remains unknown, the evidence collected by the team illuminates the first steps towards the anatomical characteristics of the pterosaurs.

Cover image: Rodolfo Nogueira

This Week

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  • News & Views

    • Atomic clocks known as optical clocks are more accurate and stable than current timekeepers. Two quantum-engineering approaches could improve the performance of optical clocks even further and extend their applications.

      • Christian Lisdat
      • Carsten Klempt
      News & Views
    • As the COVID-19 pandemic rages globally, interest in antiviral treatments has never been higher. Antibodies are key defence components, and engineering them to better exploit their natural functions might boost therapeutic options.

      • Xiaojie Yu
      • Mark S. Cragg
      News & Views
  • Articles

    • Spin transport far from equilibrium is studied in a Heisenberg model with adjustable anisotropy realized with coupled ultracold 7Li atoms, and different dynamical regimes are found for positive and negative anisotropies.

      • Paul Niklas Jepsen
      • Jesse Amato-Grill
      • Wolfgang Ketterle
    • A many-atom state of trapped 171Yb atoms that are entangled on an optical atomic-clock transition overcomes the standard quantum limit, providing a proof-of-principle demonstration towards entanglement-based optical atomic clocks.

      • Edwin Pedrozo-Peñafiel
      • Simone Colombo
      • Vladan Vuletić
    • The number of edge channels in quantum anomalous Hall insulators is controlled by varying either the magnetic dopant concentration or the interior spacer layer thickness, yielding Chern numbers up to 5.

      • Yi-Fan Zhao
      • Ruoxi Zhang
      • Cui-Zu Chang
    • A van der Waals structure based on a two-dimensional magnet and layered superconductor offers a potential system in which topological superconductivity could be easily tuned and integrated into devices.

      • Shawulienu Kezilebieke
      • Md Nurul Huda
      • Peter Liljeroth
    • Estimates of global total biomass (the mass of all living things) and anthopogenic mass (the mass embedded in inanimate objects made by humans) over time show that we are roughly at the timepoint when anthropogenic mass exceeds total biomass.

      • Emily Elhacham
      • Liad Ben-Uri
      • Ron Milo
    • Lagerpetids, bipedal archosaurs that are thought to be related to dinosaurs, are instead a sister group to pterosaurs, and although they have no obvious flight adaptations they share numerous synapomorphies with pterosaurs across the entire skeleton.

      • Martín D. Ezcurra
      • Sterling J. Nesbitt
      • Max C. Langer
    • In the absence of progranulin, microglia enter a disease-specific state that causes endolysosomal dysfunction and neurodegeneration, and these microglia promote TDP-43 granule formation, nuclear pore defects and cell death specifically in excitatory neurons via the complement activation pathway.

      • Jiasheng Zhang
      • Dmitry Velmeshev
      • Eric J. Huang
    • Single-cell and single-nucleus RNA sequencing are used to construct a cellular atlas of the human heart that will aid further research into cardiac physiology and disease.

      • Monika Litviňuková
      • Carlos Talavera-López
      • Sarah A. Teichmann
      Article Open Access
    • Thermal proteome profiling combined with a reverse genetics approach provides insights into the abundance and thermal stability of the global proteome of Escherichia coli.

      • André Mateus
      • Johannes Hevler
      • Mikhail M. Savitski
    • Cryo-electron microscopy and tomography studies reveal the structures, conformations and distributions of spike protein trimers on intact severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virions and provide a basis for understanding the interactions of the spike protein with neutralizing antibodies.

      • Zunlong Ke
      • Joaquin Oton
      • John A. G. Briggs
    • Accumulation of hydrophobic residues at the interface between monomers may favour the maintenance of multimeric protein states during evolution, even if multimerization confers no functional advantage.

      • Georg K. A. Hochberg
      • Yang Liu
      • Joseph W. Thornton
    • The structure of myosin-2 in the shutdown state reveals how the shutdown state is stabilized and how phosphorylation of light chains allows myosin to be activated.

      • Charlotte A. Scarff
      • Glenn Carrington
      • Michelle Peckham
    • High-resolution cryo-electron microscopy structure of smooth muscle myosin II in the inhibited state enables increased understanding of the functions of the head and tail regions in regulation of myosin activity and the pathological mechanisms of disease mutations.

      • Shixin Yang
      • Prince Tiwari
      • Roger Craig
  • Matters Arising

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Amendments & Corrections

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  • An ancient tradition of food preparation, maintaining wellness of an aging population and growing interest in sustainability has sparked interest in food and its production, both within Japan and across the globe.

    Focal Point
  • The freedom for people to have babies when they want, and not have them when they don’t want to, provides a sturdy foundation for families, and indeed societies, to thrive.

    Nature Outlook
  • Thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, viruses and archaea live on human skin.

    Nature Outline
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