SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Nature

200

Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite-haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils. Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3,770 million years ago.

Concepts: Geology, Metamorphic rock, Water, Fossil, Hydrothermal vent, Rock, Mineral, Sedimentary rock

200

Sudden cardiac death exhibits diurnal variation in both acquired and hereditary forms of heart disease, but the molecular basis of this variation is unknown. A common mechanism that underlies susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmias is abnormalities in the duration (for example, short or long QT syndromes and heart failure) or pattern (for example, Brugada’s syndrome) of myocardial repolarization. Here we provide molecular evidence that links circadian rhythms to vulnerability in ventricular arrhythmias in mice. Specifically, we show that cardiac ion-channel expression and QT-interval duration (an index of myocardial repolarization) exhibit endogenous circadian rhythmicity under the control of a clock-dependent oscillator, krüppel-like factor 15 (Klf15). Klf15 transcriptionally controls rhythmic expression of Kv channel-interacting protein 2 (KChIP2), a critical subunit required for generating the transient outward potassium current. Deficiency or excess of Klf15 causes loss of rhythmic QT variation, abnormal repolarization and enhanced susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmias. These findings identify circadian transcription of ion channels as a mechanism for cardiac arrhythmogenesis.

Concepts: Cardiac electrophysiology, Sleep, Cardiac arrest, Heart, Long QT syndrome, Sudden cardiac death, Cardiology, Circadian rhythm

199

Global warming is rapidly emerging as a universal threat to ecological integrity and function, highlighting the urgent need for a better understanding of the impact of heat exposure on the resilience of ecosystems and the people who depend on them 1 . Here we show that in the aftermath of the record-breaking marine heatwave on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 2 , corals began to die immediately on reefs where the accumulated heat exposure exceeded a critical threshold of degree heating weeks, which was 3-4 °C-weeks. After eight months, an exposure of 6 °C-weeks or more drove an unprecedented, regional-scale shift in the composition of coral assemblages, reflecting markedly divergent responses to heat stress by different taxa. Fast-growing staghorn and tabular corals suffered a catastrophic die-off, transforming the three-dimensionality and ecological functioning of 29% of the 3,863 reefs comprising the world’s largest coral reef system. Our study bridges the gap between the theory and practice of assessing the risk of ecosystem collapse, under the emerging framework for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Ecosystems 3 , by rigorously defining both the initial and collapsed states, identifying the major driver of change, and establishing quantitative collapse thresholds. The increasing prevalence of post-bleaching mass mortality of corals represents a radical shift in the disturbance regimes of tropical reefs, both adding to and far exceeding the influence of recurrent cyclones and other local pulse events, presenting a fundamental challenge to the long-term future of these iconic ecosystems.

Concepts: Coral bleaching, Ecosystem, Scleractinia, Belize Barrier Reef, Ecology, Coral, Great Barrier Reef, Coral reef

198

Transplantation studies in mice and rats have shown that human embryonic-stem-cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs) can improve the function of infarcted hearts, but two critical issues related to their electrophysiological behaviour in vivo remain unresolved. First, the risk of arrhythmias following hESC-CM transplantation in injured hearts has not been determined. Second, the electromechanical integration of hESC-CMs in injured hearts has not been demonstrated, so it is unclear whether these cells improve contractile function directly through addition of new force-generating units. Here we use a guinea-pig model to show that hESC-CM grafts in injured hearts protect against arrhythmias and can contract synchronously with host muscle. Injured hearts with hESC-CM grafts show improved mechanical function and a significantly reduced incidence of both spontaneous and induced ventricular tachycardia. To assess the activity of hESC-CM grafts in vivo, we transplanted hESC-CMs expressing the genetically encoded calcium sensor, GCaMP3 (refs 4, 5). By correlating the GCaMP3 fluorescent signal with the host ECG, we found that grafts in uninjured hearts have consistent 1:1 host–graft coupling. Grafts in injured hearts are more heterogeneous and typically include both coupled and uncoupled regions. Thus, human myocardial grafts meet physiological criteria for true heart regeneration, providing support for the continued development of hESC-based cardiac therapies for both mechanical and electrical repair.

Concepts: Ventricular fibrillation, Cardiology, Myocardial infarction, Muscular system, Cardiac muscle, Muscle, Cardiac electrophysiology, Heart

196

The brains of humans and other mammals are highly vulnerable to interruptions in blood flow and decreases in oxygen levels. Here we describe the restoration and maintenance of microcirculation and molecular and cellular functions of the intact pig brain under ex vivo normothermic conditions up to four hours post-mortem. We have developed an extracorporeal pulsatile-perfusion system and a haemoglobin-based, acellular, non-coagulative, echogenic, and cytoprotective perfusate that promotes recovery from anoxia, reduces reperfusion injury, prevents oedema, and metabolically supports the energy requirements of the brain. With this system, we observed preservation of cytoarchitecture; attenuation of cell death; and restoration of vascular dilatory and glial inflammatory responses, spontaneous synaptic activity, and active cerebral metabolism in the absence of global electrocorticographic activity. These findings demonstrate that under appropriate conditions the isolated, intact large mammalian brain possesses an underappreciated capacity for restoration of microcirculation and molecular and cellular activity after a prolonged post-mortem interval.

195

To correlate the variable clinical features of oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer with somatic alterations, we studied pretreatment tumour biopsies accrued from patients in two studies of neoadjuvant aromatase inhibitor therapy by massively parallel sequencing and analysis. Eighteen significantly mutated genes were identified, including five genes (RUNX1, CBFB, MYH9, MLL3 and SF3B1) previously linked to haematopoietic disorders. Mutant MAP3K1 was associated with luminal A status, low-grade histology and low proliferation rates, whereas mutant TP53 was associated with the opposite pattern. Moreover, mutant GATA3 correlated with suppression of proliferation upon aromatase inhibitor treatment. Pathway analysis demonstrated that mutations in MAP2K4, a MAP3K1 substrate, produced similar perturbations as MAP3K1 loss. Distinct phenotypes in oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer are associated with specific patterns of somatic mutations that map into cellular pathways linked to tumour biology, but most recurrent mutations are relatively infrequent. Prospective clinical trials based on these findings will require comprehensive genome sequencing.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, Breast cancer, Gene, DNA, Aromatase inhibitor, Mutation, Cancer

193

Dopamine has a central role in motivation and reward. Dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) signal the discrepancy between expected and actual rewards (that is, reward prediction error), but how they compute such signals is unknown. We recorded the activity of VTA neurons while mice associated different odour cues with appetitive and aversive outcomes. We found three types of neuron based on responses to odours and outcomes: approximately half of the neurons (type I, 52%) showed phasic excitation after reward-predicting odours and rewards in a manner consistent with reward prediction error coding; the other half of neurons showed persistent activity during the delay between odour and outcome that was modulated positively (type II, 31%) or negatively (type III, 18%) by the value of outcomes. Whereas the activity of type I neurons was sensitive to actual outcomes (that is, when the reward was delivered as expected compared to when it was unexpectedly omitted), the activity of type II and type III neurons was determined predominantly by reward-predicting odours. We ‘tagged’ dopaminergic and GABAergic neurons with the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin-2 and identified them based on their responses to optical stimulation while recording. All identified dopaminergic neurons were of type I and all GABAergic neurons were of type II. These results show that VTA GABAergic neurons signal expected reward, a key variable for dopaminergic neurons to calculate reward prediction error.

Concepts: Neuron, Mesolimbic pathway, American films, Game theory, Ventral tegmental area, Reward system, Nervous system, Dopamine

192

Here we report a unique cellular reprogramming phenomenon, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), which requires neither nuclear transfer nor the introduction of transcription factors. In STAP, strong external stimuli such as a transient low-pH stressor reprogrammed mammalian somatic cells, resulting in the generation of pluripotent cells. Through real-time imaging of STAP cells derived from purified lymphocytes, as well as gene rearrangement analysis, we found that committed somatic cells give rise to STAP cells by reprogramming rather than selection. STAP cells showed a substantial decrease in DNA methylation in the regulatory regions of pluripotency marker genes. Blastocyst injection showed that STAP cells efficiently contribute to chimaeric embryos and to offspring via germline transmission. We also demonstrate the derivation of robustly expandable pluripotent cell lines from STAP cells. Thus, our findings indicate that epigenetic fate determination of mammalian cells can be markedly converted in a context-dependent manner by strong environmental cues.

Concepts: Epigenetics, Cell biology, DNA methylation, Gene, Developmental biology, Genetics, Gene expression, DNA

192

Discovering the unintended ‘off-targets’ that predict adverse drug reactions is daunting by empirical methods alone. Drugs can act on several protein targets, some of which can be unrelated by conventional molecular metrics, and hundreds of proteins have been implicated in side effects. Here we use a computational strategy to predict the activity of 656 marketed drugs on 73 unintended ‘side-effect’ targets. Approximately half of the predictions were confirmed, either from proprietary databases unknown to the method or by new experimental assays. Affinities for these new off-targets ranged from 1 nM to 30 μM. To explore relevance, we developed an association metric to prioritize those new off-targets that explained side effects better than any known target of a given drug, creating a drug-target-adverse drug reaction network. Among these new associations was the prediction that the abdominal pain side effect of the synthetic oestrogen chlorotrianisene was mediated through its newly discovered inhibition of the enzyme cyclooxygenase-1. The clinical relevance of this inhibition was borne out in whole human blood platelet aggregation assays. This approach may have wide application to de-risking toxicological liabilities in drug discovery.

Concepts: Chemotherapy, Aspirin, Iatrogenesis, Blood, Platelet, Adverse drug reaction, Pharmacology, Scientific method

186

Net anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must approach zero by mid-century (2050) to stabilize global mean temperature at the levels targeted by international efforts1-5. Yet continued expansion of fossil-fuel energy infrastructure implies already ‘committed’ future CO2 emissions6-13. Here we use detailed datasets of current fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure in 2018 to estimate regional and sectoral patterns of ‘committed’ CO2 emissions, the sensitivity of such emissions to assumed operating lifetimes and schedules, and the economic value of associated infrastructure. We estimate that, if operated as historically, existing infrastructure will emit about 658 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 (ranging from 226 to 1,479 Gt CO2 depending on assumed lifetimes and utilization rates). More than half of these emissions are projected to come from the electricity sector, and infrastructure in China, the USA and the EU28 countries represent approximately 41 per cent, 9 per cent and 7 per cent of the total, respectively. If built, proposed power plants (planned, permitted or under construction) would emit approximately an additional 188 (range 37-427) Gt CO2. Committed emissions from existing and proposed energy infrastructure (about 846 Gt CO2) thus represent more than the entire remaining carbon budget if mean warming is to be limited to 1.5 °C with a probability of 50-66 per cent (420-580 Gt CO2)5, and perhaps two-thirds of the remaining carbon budget if mean warming is to be limited to below 2 °C (1,170-1,500 Gt CO2)5. The remaining carbon budget estimates are varied and nuanced14,15, depending on the climate target and the availability of large-scale negative emissions16. Nevertheless, our emission estimates suggest that little or no additional CO2-emitting infrastructure can be commissioned, and that infrastructure retirements that are earlier than historical ones (or retrofits with carbon capture and storage technology) may be necessary, in order to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals17. On the basis of the asset value per ton of committed emissions, we estimate that the most cost-effective premature infrastructure retirements will be in the electricity and industry sectors, if non-emitting alternative technologies are available and affordable4,18.