Plant ecology: Reading the rain forest inventory

Methane on the rise?, 1918 influenza virus triggered exaggerated immune response, Malaria riddle explained, Massive stars require gas doughnuts, Extremophile’s extreme repair job, Solid turns into bizarre state of matter, Hot condensation and Silk spun by tarantula feet


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.443 NO.7110 DATED 28 SEPTEMBER 2006

This press release contains:

* Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Plant ecology: Reading the rain forest inventory

Climate change: Methane on the rise?

Immunology: 1918 influenza virus triggered exaggerated immune response

Parasitology: Malaria riddle explained

Astronomy: Massive stars require gas doughnuts

Cell biology: Extremophile’s extreme repair job (AOP)

Quantum physics: Solid turns into bizarre state of matter

Quantum physics: Hot condensation

And finally… Silk spun by tarantula feet

* Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo
* Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Plant ecology: Reading the rain forest inventory (pp 444-447)

The distribution of trees in the Amazonian rain forest is far from haphazard, researchers report in this week’s Nature. Various factors, such as soil fertility and dry season length, produce gradients of species, suggesting that these trees have evolved to fill particular environmental niches.

Hans ter Steege and colleagues reached this conclusion by pouring over forest inventory records taken from 7 of the 9 countries with territory in the Amazon basin and Guiana shield.

One plant family, the Fabaceae, is particularly dominant in the Guiana shield, and many had thought that this was the result of root adaptation to poor soil. But this study suggests that the plants grow well in areas of low disturbance, where there is little opportunity for new trees to grow, perhaps because they produce an unusually large amount of seeds.


Hans ter Steege (Institute of Environmental Biology & Nationaal Herbarium, Utrecht, Netherlands)
Tel: + 31 30 2536877; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Climate change: Methane on the rise? (439-443; N&V)

Atmospheric methane levels may increase in the near future, a paper in this week’s Nature suggests. Methane is a major greenhouse gas, so this may affect climate change.

P. Bousquet and colleagues have identified the processes responsible for the changes in methane levels seen between 1983 and 2004. The slowed growth rate in methane levels seen in the 1990s is, they suggest, due to a decrease in anthropogenic emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels.

But since 1999 anthropogenic emissions have started to rise again, a possible consequence of the booming Chinese economy. This increase has until now been masked by a coincident dip in wetland emissions. Wetlands also play an important role in the year-to-year fluctuations seen in methane emissions.


Philippe Bousquet (CNRS-CEA-UVSQ, Gif sur Yvette, France)
Tel: +33 1 69 08 77 18 / +33 1 39 25 45 29; E-mail : [email protected]

Jos Lelieveld (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany)
Tel: +61 31 305 458; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Immunology: 1918 influenza virus triggered exaggerated immune response (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05181

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 27 September at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 28 September, but at a later date.***

An increased host immune and cell death response may have contributed to the terrible symptoms experienced by those infected with the 1918 influenza virus, a study using a mouse model suggests in this week’s Nature. The finding may prove a useful starting point for developing novel antiviral therapies and prognostic indicators.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 caused around 50 million deaths worldwide. Those infected commonly suffered severe lung damage and haemorrhage as the virus destroyed the lining of their airways, but the role played by the hosts’ immune system has been unclear.

John C. Kash and colleagues now show that a reconstructed version of the 1918 influenza virus causes an increased and accelerated activation of host immune response genes as well as severe lung damage in mice. Animals infected with a virus containing all eight genes from the pandemic virus showed increased activity in signalling pathways related to inflammation and cell death.


John C Kash (University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA)
Tel: +1 206 732 6158; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Parasitology: Malaria riddle explained (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05149

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 27 September at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 28 September, but at a later date.***

Researchers have solved one of the biochemical mysteries of malaria: the increase in sodium concentration seen in red blood cells after infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. By altering sodium concentrations in this way, the parasite makes it easier to steal nutrients from its host cell.

Although it has long been known that P. falciparum increases the sodium concentration inside the cells it infects, it took a study by Kiaran Kirk and colleagues, published online by Nature this week, to work out why. The team have now discovered that the parasite expresses a protein complex that allows it to take up phosphate, which is essential for cell metabolism and nucleic acid manufacture; this protein transporter is driven by sodium ions.

By engineering a high sodium concentration in its host cell while keeping its own internal sodium levels low, the parasite sets up a 'sodium gradient' across its membrane, the researchers explain. This helps to drive the uptake of phosphate via the sodium-dependent ion transporter. What's more, when the researchers cloned the ion transporter and expressed it in frog egg cells, these cells took up phosphate in the same way as the malaria parasite.


Kiaran Kirk (The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)
Tel: +61 2 6125 2284; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Astronomy: Massive stars require gas doughnuts (pp 427-429)

In Nature this week, astronomers present comprehensive observations of the birth of a star around 20 times more massive than our Sun. Their findings strongly support one side of a still-unresolved astrophysical conundrum: how do high-mass stars form?

Low-mass stars like our Sun form by gathering in material from surrounding dust and gas clouds. But once a forming star reaches ten solar masses, the intense radiation from its core should block any further accretion of material. Two models have been suggested to explain why we see even heavier stars in the Universe: either mid-sized stars collide, or material is accreted from a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) gas cloud, while stellar radiation beams out through tunnels at the poles.

Maria Beltrán and colleagues find a toroidal, rotating cloud around a massive young star core region, and observe gas falling in and stellar radiation flowing out. This is the first time all these signatures have been observed simultaneously. The researchers conclude that massive stars can indeed be formed by non-spherical accretion of gas and dust.


Maria Beltrán (Universitat de Barcelona, Spain)
Tel: +34 9 34 03 92 28; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Cell biology: Extremophile’s extreme repair job (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05160

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 27 September at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 28 September, but at a later date.***

Researchers have figured out how an extremophile bacterium is able to reassemble its genome after being shattered into hundreds of pieces by high doses of radiation.

The bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans is one of the few organisms that can withstand extreme bouts of desiccation and ionizing radiation. In a study to be published online this week by Nature, Miroslav Radman and colleagues describe a novel two-stage DNA repair process that enables the bacterium to rebuild its genome.

First, the randomly broken fragments have one strand at each end chewed away to leave a single-strand tail. These tails can find a complementary sequence, and an enzyme - called DNA polymerase - extends them to form long single-stranded DNA tails. Second, these complementary long tails pair together, forming long double-stranded DNA molecules that are processed into the original circular genome.

The process is efficient and accurate, and other desiccation-resistant organisms, such as rotifers, may have evolved a similar repair system.


Miroslav Radman (Université Paris 5, France)
Tel: +33 1 40 61 53 20; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Quantum physics: Solid turns into bizarre state of matter (409-414; N&V)

Particles in a solid-state device have been turned into an unusual state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a paper in Nature reports. This enables quantum effects to be observed at the macroscopic level.

A BEC is a phase of matter formed by the cooling of particles called bosons to temperatures near absolute zero (zero kelvin or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius). BECs have previously been demonstrated in gases of atoms cooled to below one millionth of a kelvin. But now B. Deveaud and colleagues have turned minute particles called polaritons inside semiconductor structures into BECs at temperatures of around minus 260 degrees Celsius.

This demonstration of BEC in a solid structure and at higher temperatures brings the technological application of this phenomenon one step closer. Particles in the BEC phase all exist in the same quantum state and so carry the same information. In the future, it's thought, they could yield an efficient way of information processing.


B Deveaud (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland)
Tel: +41 21 693 5496; E-mail: [email protected]

David Snoke (University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 412 624 9007; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] Quantum physics: Hot condensation (433-433; N&V)

When a collection of particles such as atoms undergoes Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC), in effect they all behave like a single particle. Normally this happens only at very low temperatures, as quantum-mechanical effects tend to get drowned out in warmer conditions. But a team of physicists report in Nature this week how they observed BEC at room temperature.

Examples of BEC include superconductivity (electrical conduction with zero resistance) and superfluidity (flow without viscosity), both of which generally require cooling to very low temperatures. BEC has also been observed in ultracold atomic gases. But Sergej Demokritov and colleagues achieved it in thin solid films of the compound yttrium-iron-garnet (YIG) at room temperature. Here the 'particles' are collective wave-like excitations of the magnetic states of atoms in the material: this may sound exotic, but these so-called 'magnons' can be considered to be packets of magnetic energy, just as photons are packets of electromagnetic energy.

It has been predicted that BEC might be achieved in a system of particles by pumping energy into them at a high enough rate. This is what Demokritiv and colleagues have done, using microwaves to pump up the magnons in the YIG film. On doing this, they see the characteristic signature of BEC in the energy distribution, or spectrum, of the magnetic excitations.

Sergej Demokritov (University of Muenster, Germany)
Tel: +49 251 833 3551; E-mail: [email protected]

David Snoke (University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 412 624 9007; E-mail: [email protected]

[9] And finally… Silk spun by tarantula feet (p 407)

Tarantulas secrete silk from their feet to help them stick to surfaces when walking, a Brief Communication in this week’s Nature reveals. The finding may prompt a rethink over the evolution of spider silk.

Stanislav Gorb and colleagues persuaded zebra tarantulas (Aphonopelma seemanni) to walk up vertical glass surfaces and noticed that they produced fibrous secretions from nozzle-like structures in their feet to act as silken tethers.

It’s known that spiders use tiny ‘claws‘ and weak molecular attractions generated by hairs to help them stick to surfaces. But the researchers' observation reveals a previously undiscovered attachment mechanism.

It could be that silk production from spider feet evolved first, with production from abdominal spinnerets coming later. Alternatively, foot secretions may have evolved independently as a key innovation to help the relatively large tarantula spiders move around and avert them from falling catastrophically.


Stanislav Gorb (Max-Planck-Institut für Metallforschung, Stuttgart, Germany)
Tel: +49 711 6893414; E-mail: [email protected]


[10] Evolution of alternative transcriptional circuits with identical logic (pp 415-420; N&V)

[11] Violation of the incompressibility of liquid by simple shear flow (pp 434-438)

[12] BRX mediates feedback between brassinosteroid levels and auxin signalling in root growth (pp 458-461)

[13] Centrosome polarization delivers secretory granules to the immunological synapse (pp 462-465)

[14] Structural insights into yeast septin organization from polarized fluorescence microscopy (pp 466-469)

[15] Ion permeation through the Na1,K1-ATPase (pp 470-474)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 27 September at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included them on this release to avoid multiple mailings they will not appear in print on 28 September, but at a later date.***

[16] Functional epistasis on a common MHC haplotype associated with multiple sclerosis

DOI: 10.1038/nature05133

[17] Co-evolution of transcriptional and posttranslational cell-cycle regulation

DOI: 10.1038/nature05186

[18] Identification of a mammalian mitochondrial porphyrin transporter

DOI: 10.1038/nature05125


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.


Canberra: 4

Melbourne: 4

Victoria: 2


Bogota: 1

Medellin: 1


Split: 6

Zagreb: 6


Aarhus: 16

Copenhagen: 16

Lyngby: 17


Gif-sur-Yvette: 2

Montpellier: 1

Paris: 2, 6

Orsay: 6

Saint Martin d’Heres: 7

Versailles: 2


Cayenne: 1


Berlin: 17

Heidelberg: 17

Jena: 9

Kaiserslautern: 8

Muenster: 8

Stuttgart: 9

Tubingen: 9

Ulm: 9


Firenze: 5


Tokyo: 11


Amsterdam: 2

Utrecht: 1


Cajamarca: 1


Stellenbosch: 2


Barcelona: 5


Geneva: 1

Lausanne: 7, 12


Cambridge: 7

Leeds: 1

Oxford: 7, 13, 16



Berkeley: 10

Irvine: 2, 9

Riverside: 9

San Francisco: 10


Boulder: 2

District of Columbia

Washington: 1


Athens: 3

Atlanta: 3


Hilo: 5


Bethesda: 3

Rockville: 3


Boston: 14

Cambridge: 7


Rochester: 8

New York

New York: 2, 3, 15


Memphis: 18


Seattle: 3


Kiev: 8


Bolivar: 1


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

Itsumi Kitahara, Nature Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail: [email protected]

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above

Helen Jamison, Nature London

Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail [email protected]

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Published: 27 Sep 2006

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