Non-coding DNA shows adaptive evolution; Going for gold; Hitting an atomic bull's-eye; Measuring natural selection on humans; How to get a head; Confusing crater count; Runaround rat chase

Highlights of Papers in Nature Vol 437 No 7062 Date 20 Octobed 2005

This press release is copyright Nature.
VOL.437 NO.7062 DATED 20 OCTOBER 2005

This press release contains:
* Summaries of newsworthy papers:
* Genetics: Non-coding DNA shows adaptive evolution
* Chemistry: Going for gold
* Electronics: Hitting an atomic bull's-eye
* Genetics: Measuring natural selection on humans
* Evolution: How to get a head
* Planetary science: Confusing crater count
* And finally: Runaround rat chase
* Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Genetics: Non-coding DNA shows adaptive evolution (pp1149-1152; N&V)

Some scientists call the non-coding regions of the genome 'junk' DNA. But a
paper appearing in Nature this week provides evidence that these regions are
actually under strong selection.
Using a recently developed population genetic approach, Peter Andolfatto
shows that non-coding DNA in the fly Drosophila melanogaster is evolving
more slowly than similar sites in coding DNA, due to pressure on the
non-coding DNA to remain the same over time. Many previous studies of
evolutionary rates examined changes in coding DNA without looking at
non-coding DNA. The non-coding portions also exhibit an unusually large
amount of genetic divergence between different fly species. The data from
this study suggest that these regions are subject to adaptive evolution and
purifying selection. On the basis of this analysis, Andolfatto proposes that
the non-translated regions serve an important biological function.
"In Drosophila, the relatively junk-free regions between genes, which
probably regulate gene expression, appear to be a major target of positive
selection," writes Alexey S. Kondrashov in a related News and Views article.

Peter Andolfatto (University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 334 8039; E-mail: [email protected]

Alexey S. Kondrashov (National Center for Biotechnology Information, NIH,
Bethesda, MD, USA)
Tel: +1 301 435 8944, E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Chemistry: Going for gold (pp1132-1135; N&V)

Chemists have invented an efficient way to incorporate oxygen directly from
the air into the hydrocarbon molecules found in oil and gas. The discovery,
reported in this week's Nature, relies on tiny particles of gold to make the
reaction work, and has the potential to replace industrial procedures that
use harsh oxidants and generate toxic waste products.
Graham J. Hutchings and colleagues found that gold nanoparticles can
activate oxygen molecules at normal atmospheric pressure and relatively low
temperatures of 60-80 degrees Celsius, thus speeding up oxidation reactions.
They also report that the reaction can be fine-tuned to give the desired
products by changing the solvent, which is the liquid that dissolves all the
reacting molecules. For example, this allowed the chemists to selectively
create molecules where an oxygen atom bridges two carbon atoms, called
epoxides, without oxidizing them any further.
"The selective oxidation of hydrocarbons is immensely important to modern
chemical industries," comments Masatake Haruta in a related News and Views
article. "Oxygen-containing organic compounds are used to produce
detergents, paints, cosmetics and food additives, among other things."

Graham J. Hutchings (Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Tel: +44 29 2087 4805; E-mail: [email protected]

Masatake Haruta (Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan)
Tel: +81 426 77 2852, E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Electronics: Hitting an atomic bull's-eye (pp1128-1131)

The semiconductor materials in electrical components such as transistors
require traces of impurities, called dopants, to work properly. These
dopants are usually scattered randomly through the semiconductor. In this
week's Nature, scientists reveal how arranging the dopants into regular
arrays can improve device performance, particularly when the devices are
very small.
Takahiro Shinada and colleagues used a beam of charged phosphorus atoms to
add dopants to a tiny transistor - they fire these charged dopant atoms one
by one into a silicon chip, and precisely control exactly where they land.
These phosphorus ions were regularly spaced in a grid pattern through the
silicon chip, with each ion about 100 nanometres away from its neighbours.
Conventional semiconductors are doped randomly, but as electronic devices
get ever smaller this randomness becomes a problem. If the average
separation between the dopants is comparable to the size of the devices, the
number and distribution of the dopant atoms can vary substantially from
device to device, interfering with their electrical properties. Precise,
atomic-scale control of doping improves the performance and reproducibility
of the smallest electronic circuits, and could even help to create a
silicon-based quantum computer.

Takahiro Shinada (Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan)
Tel: +81 3 5272 1407; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Genetics: Measuring natural selection on humans (pp1153-1157)

How fast are humans evolving? Carlos Bustamante and his colleagues provide
an insight on this question by analysing genetic data from 39 individual
people and from chimpanzees. In their paper, which appears this week in
Nature, the team reports that 9% of more than 3,000 examined regions show
evidence of rapid amino acid evolution.
The study, which analysed more than 11,000 genes, shows that certain gene
types - such as those that influence gene transcription - show a propensity
to evolve rapidly, whereas others - those that make cytoskeletal proteins -
are especially prone to negative selection.
Carlos D. Bustamante (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 607 255 1640; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Evolution: How to get a head (pp1144-1148; N&V)

An anatomical study of an obscure sea creature called a sea spider resolves
a decades-long zoological debate, according to research in this week's
Nature from Amy Maxmen and colleagues.
The bodies of arthropods (jointed-limbed creatures including insects,
spiders and crustaceans) are divided into segments, each of which bears a
pair of limbs and the appropriate neural wiring needed to service them. So
much is clear from the bodies - the heads, however, are more complicated, as
the original segmental relationships have been obscured by hundreds of
millions of years of evolution. Much debate concerns the frontmost segment,
which is limbless in modern arthropods. Did this segment once bear limbs?
Work on a group of ancient and bizarre fossil arthropods suggests that the
first segment often bore appendages, sometimes huge and spectacular claws,
but evidence from modern arthropods has been unclear.
Enter sea spiders (pycnogonids), generally reckoned to be extremely
primitive arthropods. In a painstaking study, Maxmen and colleagues have
examined the neuroanatomy of larval sea spiders to show that the frontmost
segment is indeed innervated, and is associated with claw-like appendages
called chelifores. These may be relics of the appendages of ancient
arthropods that once stalked the deeps more than 500 million years ago. A
related News and Views article by Graham E. Budd and Maximilian J. Telford
accompanies this research.

Amy Maxmen (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 384 8437; E-mail: [email protected]

Graham E. Budd (University of Uppsala, Sweden)
Tel: +46 18 471 2762, E-mail: [email protected]

Maximilian J. Telford (University College London, UK)
Tel: +44 20 7679 2554, E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Planetary science: Confusing crater count (pp1125-1127)

Each small crater on the surface of a moon or planet is not necessarily
generated by an individual impact, according to research published in this
week's Nature. Instead, Edward B. Bierhaus and colleagues argue that at
least 95% of the small craters on Jupiter's moon Europa are 'secondaries',
formed when chunks of rock ejected during the primary impact of a comet or
asteroid crash back to the surface.
This suggests that there have been relatively few small comets passing
Jupiter in recent years, bringing the count in line with the predictions of
mathematical models. But it also has important implications for astronomers
who estimate the ages of planetary surfaces by counting craters. If many of
the smaller craters on the Moon and Mars are not created by direct impacts,
the age of some of the surfaces on those bodies might have to be revised.

Edward B. Bierhaus (Lockheed Martin, Space Exploration Systems, Denver, CO, USA)
Tel: +1 303 971 4240; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] And finally: Runaround rat chase (p1108)

A single rat has given conservationists plenty to think about after evading
capture on New Zealand's remote Noises Islands for a staggering four months.
The elusive rodent was finally captured on a neighbouring island, showing
just how difficult it is to keep small islands free of these invading and
destructive rodents.
The rat was released on the uninhabited island of Motuhoropapa by
researchers James C. Russell and colleagues, who fitted it with a
radio-tracking collar to find out what it is about the behaviour of solitary
invaders that makes them so difficult to eradicate. The team then deployed a
diverse arsenal of traps, baits and sniffer dogs in a bid to catch it again.
The rat evaded them at every turn and escaped from the island after ten
weeks, the team reports in a Brief Communication in this week's Nature.
Signs of the rodent, including faecal DNA that matched samples taken before
its release, then appeared on the neighbouring island of Otata, some 400
metres away. The authors say that this is the longest distance recorded for
a rat swimming across open sea. The intrepid escapee was finally caught
using a trap baited with fresh penguin meat.
The authors conclude that rodent pests are difficult to eliminate when they
occur in small numbers, perhaps because of the lack of competition for food.

James C. Russell (University of Auckland, Private Bag, Auckland, New Zealand)
Tel: +64 9 373 7599 ext. 88679; E-mail: [email protected]


[9] Rebuilt AAA1 motors reveal operating principles for ATP-fuelled
machines (pp1115-1120)

[10] A 'dry' condensation origin for circumstellar carbonates

[11] Thermochemical structures beneath Africa and the Pacific Ocean

[12] Helium solubility in olivine and implications for high 3He/4He in
ocean island basalts (pp1140-1143)

[13] Activity of striatal neurons reflects dynamic encoding and recoding
of procedural memories (pp1153-1157)

[14] Photosystem II core phosphorylation and photosynthetic acclimation
require two different protein kinases (pp1179-1182)

[15] Crystal structure of a junction between B-DNA and Z-DNA reveals two
extruded bases (pp1183-1186; N&V)

[16] Structure of Escherichia coli RNase E catalytic domain and
implications for RNA turnover (pp1187-1191)


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the
papers numbered in this release. For example, London: 4 - this means that
on paper number four, there will be at least one author affiliated to an
institute or company in London. The listing may be for an author's main
affiliation, or for a place where they are working temporarily. Please see
the PDF of the paper for full details.

Copenhagen: 5

Orsay: 10
Paris: 10
Vandouevres-les-Nancy: 10

Cologne: 14
Dusseldorf: 14
Jena: 14
Munich: 14

Lodi: 14

Saitama: 3
Tokyo: 3, 4
Yada: 3

Seoul: 15
Suwon: 15

Auckland: 8

Cambridge: 16
Cardiff: 2
Durham: 12
Leeds: 16
Royston: 2
Teeside: 2

Tempe: 11
Alameda: 5
La Jolla: 1
Livermore: 10
Santa Cruz: 16
Boulder: 7, 11
Denver: 7
Honolulu: 6
Rockville: 5
Cambridge: 6, 9, 12, 13, 15
Woods Hole: 12
New York
Ithaca: 5
Cleveland: 5
Bethlehem: 2
University Park: 13
Madison: 3

Hanoi: 3


For North America and Canada
Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail: [email protected]

For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Rinoko Asami, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail: [email protected]

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Ruth Francis, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail [email protected]

Katharine Mansell, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail: [email protected]

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Published: 19 Oct 2005

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