Methane-munching microbes do their bit against global warming

‘Linguistics’ spawns new antimicrobial drugs, Stop picking on the big guys, Moon's south pole unlikely to have thick ice deposits, Bang on in the Andromeda galaxy, Cancer stem cells resist radiotherapy, Primitive fish surprisingly advanced, Neurodegeneration, Two pores colliding, Getting to the roots of the fungal family tree.......


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.443 NO.7113 DATED 19 OCTOBER 2006

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Climate change: Methane-munching microbes do their bit against global warming

Microbiology: ‘Linguistics’ spawns new antimicrobial drugs

Ocean fisheries: Stop picking on the big guys

Astronomy: Moon's south pole unlikely to have thick ice deposits

Cosmology: Bang on in the Andromeda galaxy

Cancer: Cancer stem cells resist radiotherapy

Fossils: Primitive fish surprisingly advanced

Insight: Neurodegeneration

Chemistry: Two pores colliding

Evolution: Getting to the roots of the fungal family tree

Cancer: Protein for optical clarity

Medical imaging: Inside out

· Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Climate change: Methane-munching microbes do their bit against global warming
(pp 854-858)

Methane-consuming microbes, described in this week's Nature, are helping to control climate change. The single-celled organisms help to temper the amount of methane belched into the oceans by underwater mud volcanoes.

Antje Boetius and colleagues studied the active Haakon Mosby Mud Volcano, which is south of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian-Greenland Sea, and discovered three key communities of methane-consuming microbes. One, newly discovered, belongs to the archaea domain, a group of unicellular organisms quite separate to bacteria and eukaryotes. The second is a bacterium, which breaks down methane using oxygen. And the third is another archaeon, which, along with its associated bacteria, anaerobically breaks down methane using sulphate.

The upward flow of sulphate- and oxygen-free fluids from the volcano limits the habitat of these methanotrophs. As a result, the microbes are able to break down only ~40% of the total methane emitted from this volcano.


Antje Boetius (Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany)
Tel: +49 421 2028 860; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Microbiology: ‘Linguistics’ spawns new antimicrobial drugs (pp 867-869)

Researchers have used ideas from linguistics to design a series of new antimicrobial drugs. The molecules, which mimic naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides, may prove particularly useful as it’s thought that they may be less susceptible to bacterial resistance than other antibiotics.

Gregory Stephanopoulos and colleagues used a linguistic model to design their peptides. They treated the amino acid sequences of natural antimicrobial peptides as a formal language and then built a set of grammatical rules to describe them. The rules were then used to create new, unnatural antimicrobial peptide sequences.

The new peptides, described in this week's Nature, are able to inhibit the growth of several bacterial species, including Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus anthracis.


Gregory Stephanopoulos (MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 253 4583; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Ocean fisheries: Stop picking on the big guys (pp 859-862)

A common strategy for sustainable fishing is to preferentially catch older, larger fish, leaving fitter generations behind. But the strategy may make the remaining fish more vulnerable to environmental change, a paper in this week’s Nature suggests. So fishing protocols may be due a rethink.

George Sugihara and colleagues reached their conclusions after studying the results of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigation, a unique 50-year-long survey that enabled them to compare the abundance of exploited and non-exploited species in the same ocean.

Overfishing, they found, decreases the total abundance of species, but increases the variation in abundance over time. That is, the numbers of exploited fish are more likely to go up and down. The team think the effect is probably caused by the practice of catching older, bigger fish, which destabilizes the rest of the population.

The results have strong implications for fisheries management and suggest that, to avoid collapse, fisheries must be managed not only to sustain the total biomass, but also to maintain the heterogeneous age structure of the population.


George Sugihara (University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 534 5582; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Astronomy: Moon's south pole unlikely to have thick ice deposits (pp 835-837)

New high-resolution radar images presented in Nature this week show no evidence of thick ice deposits in the Shackleton crater at the Moon's south pole, where NASA is considering future lunar landings.

Donald Campbell and colleagues collected radar images of the Moon's south pole to a resolution of 20 metres, the highest yet observed. They show that a particular radar scattering parameter, the circular polarization ratio, previously thought only to indicate thick deposits of ice, can also be created by radar echoes from the rough terrain and walls of impact craters. Similar circular polarization ratio values were seen in both sunny and permanently shady areas of craters, suggesting that this radar pattern probably identifies rocky debris, not thick ice deposits.

If any ice does exist at the south pole, it is likely to be as small, widely scattered grains rather than thick deposits, the authors say. This will affect plans to exploit the hoped-for ice as a hydrogen resource.


Donald Campbell (Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA)
Tel: +1 202 633 2407; E-mail: [email protected]

Please note the author is travelling until late Tuesday 17 October so it may be easier to contact
Jill Tarbell (PA. Tel: +1 607 255 3735) or the author on his mobile phone (+1 607 227 9247)

[5] Cosmology: Bang on in the Andromeda galaxy (pp 832-834)

The discovery of a second ring in the Andromeda galaxy may be evidence of a violent past, a paper in this week’s Nature suggests.

The unusual morphology of the spiral Andromeda Galaxy has long been an enigma. It has a well-known outer ring, the centre of which is offset from the galaxy nucleus, and the outer galaxy disk is warped. David Block and colleagues now report the presence of a second, inner ring that is also offset from the centre of the galaxy.

Their calculations indicate that both rings result from a companion galaxy plunging through almost the centre of the original Andromeda galaxy disk. The most likely interloper is a galaxy known as Messier 32. Head-on collisions between galaxies are rare, but nonetheless it appears that one took place 210 million years ago in our local galaxy neighbourhood.


David Block (University Witwatersrand, Gauteng, South Africa)
Tel: +27 83 616 0555; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Cancer: Cancer stem cells resist radiotherapy (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05236

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 18 October 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 19 October, but at a later date.***

Glioblastomas are malignant brain tumours that very often recur after radiation therapy. Researchers now think they know why. In a paper published online this week by Nature, Jeremy N. Rich and colleagues show that a small population of tumour cells, including cancer and neural stem cells, help make these glioma tumours more resistant to treatment.

Although the stem cells make up just a tiny fraction of the entire tumour mass, they can divide to form more copies of themselves and drive tumour formation. Glioblastoma stem cells, which express a characteristic marker protein called CD133, activate a DNA repair pathway more potently than CD133-negative cancer cells. This makes them better able to survive DNA damage, and more resistant to ionizing radiation in vivo and in vitro.

It is hoped the discovery will boost the development of treatments that block the radioresistance of cancer stem cells and so improve the efficacy of brain cancer treatments.


Jeremy N. Rich (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA)
Tel: +1 919 681 1693; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Fossils: Primitive fish surprisingly advanced (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05243

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 18 October 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 19 October, but at a later date.***

Researchers studying spectacularly preserved fossils of the lobe-finned fish Gogonasus have discovered some unexpectedly advanced features. Their findings, reported in this week’s Nature, suggest that aspects of tetrapodal ears and limbs can be traced deep into our fishy heritage.

The evolutionary transition from water to land exerts a continuing fascination, but many of the pivotal fossils are incomplete. In a paper published online this week by Nature, John A. Long and colleagues describe the remains of one of the most complete Devonian fishes yet discovered. Gogonasus swam in the oceans around 380 million years ago. The specimen, discovered in Western Australia last year, was fishlike in many respects but features of its ear and limbs are surprisingly tetrapod-like.


John A. Long (Museum Victoria, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Melbourne, Australia)
Tel: +61 38 341 7777; E-mail: [email protected]

Insight: Neurodegeneration (pp 767-810)

Almost 100 years on from Alois Alzheimer's first lecture on a patient with what we now know as Alzheimer's disease, Nature is publishing an Insight on mechanisms that underlie neurodegenerative disorders, and the potential therapeutic applications new insights may offer.

Patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease show remarkable day-to-day variations in neurological functions. It is likely, argue Lennart Mucke and Jorge Palop, that, rather than neuronal death, this reflects fluctuations in the activity of neural networks, which may be reversible. Protein aggregates in the brain, as first discovered by Alzheimer, are a hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases, but their role in pathology if any is still unclear. Peter Lansbury and colleagues argue that this century-old debate may soon be settled in the clinic. The amount of proteins and protein aggregates in cells is partly regulated by protein-disposal pathways. David Rubinsztein explores the contribution of these pathways to pathology.

Michael Lin and M. Flint Beal discuss the central role that mitochondria, critical regulators of cell survival and death, have in ageing and ageing-related neurodegenerative diseases. Cell death is thought to be a late event in the neurodegenerative process. Nevertheless, say Dale Bredesen and his colleagues, various approaches to inhibit cell death have led to improved outcomes in models of neurodegenerative disease. Finally, Byron Caughey and Gerald Baron discuss what might be helping prions proteins cause maladies such as BSE and variant CJD, as the evidence suggests that prions have a partner in crime.


Lennart Mucke (Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease

and UCSF Neurology, San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 415 734 2504; E-mail: [email protected]

Peter Lansbury (Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 768 8610; E-mail: [email protected]

David Rubinsztein (Cambridge University, UK)
Tel: +44 1223 762 608; E-mail: [email protected]

M. Flint Beal (Weill Medical College, New York, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 212 746 6575; E-mail: [email protected]

Dale Bredesen (Buck Institute for Age Research, Novato, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 415 209 2090; E-mail: [email protected]

Byron Caughey (NIH/NIAID/RML Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases, Hamilton, MT, USA)
Tel: +1 406 363 9264; E-mail: [email protected]

Gerald Baron (NIH/NIAID/RML Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases, Hamilton, MT, USA)
Tel: +1 406 363 9485; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] Chemistry: Two pores colliding (pp 842-845; N&V)

A porous material with a new highly open framework structure is described in Nature this week. The material is a zeolite, one of a family of materials also known as molecular sieves. The new material exhibits pore systems running in two different directions. One pore system has extra-large pores (12.2 angstroms) connected crosswise by the second pore system, which has medium-sized pores (6.1 angstroms by 4.3 angstroms).

Zeolites are used in industry to catalyse important reactions (including oil refining), to store and separate gases, and to remove contaminants. The new material, called ITQ-33, has very high storage capacity; furthermore, the large pores allow unusual catalytic activity. In some combinations, the cracking of gasoil is better when catalysed by ITQ-33 than by the zeolites used commercially at present.

Avelino Corma and colleagues discovered the unusual conditions needed to synthesize the material using high-throughput techniques that allow chemists to sample a wide range of possible synthesis conditions.


Avelino Corma (Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain)
Tel: +34 96 387 78 00/01; E-mail: [email protected]

Raul Lobo (University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA)
Tel: +1 302 831 1261; E-mail: [email protected]

[9] Evolution: Getting to the roots of the fungal family tree (pp 818-822: N&V)

Researchers can now gain a detailed insight into the evolution of fungi, thanks to an ancestral fungal family tree published in this week’s Nature.

Timothy Y. James and colleagues analysed data from six gene regions from nearly 200 fungal species. The earliest fungi, they report, were probably aquatic with flagellated swimming spores. But where current classifications assume that the loss of spore flagellum happened just once, the new data indicate that it happened on at least four independent occasions.

The losses coincided with the appearance of novel innovations in spore production and dispersal, such as forcible discharge of spores and wind dispersal methods. These contributed to the myriad of unicellular and filamentous forms seen today.


Timothy Y. James (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA)
Tel: +1 919 660 7362; E-mail: [email protected]

Tom Bruns (University of California Berkeley, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 510 642 7987; E-mail: [email protected]

[10] Cancer: Protein for optical clarity (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature05249

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 18 October 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 19 October, but at a later date.***

The presence of a protein called soluble VEGF receptor-1 (sVEGFR-1) maintains optical clarity by keeping the cornea free of blood vessels, a paper published online this week by Nature suggests. The discovery may aid the development of drugs that block blood vessel development, which may prove useful in treatment cancer.

Jayakrishna Ambati and colleagues found that when levels of sVEGFR-1 are reduced, blood vessels begin to grow into the eye's outer surface. And the protein is lacking in some patients with aniridia, a condition in which the cornea becomes vascularized.

Only one type of organism — the manatee — is known to have blood vessels in its cornea, and is deficient in corneal sVEGFR-1. But elephants (a close relative of the manatee), mice and humans all have significant levels of the protein, suggesting that it has been conserved through evolution.


Jayakrishna Ambati (University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA)
Tel: +1 859 323 5867 x259; E-mail: [email protected]

[11] Medical imaging: Inside out (p765)

Video-quality three-dimensional images transmitted from tiny probes (the size of a human hair) could revolutionize medical endoscopy examinations. The technology opens up the possibility of moving a variety of operations to an outpatient setting and is reported in a Brief Communication in Nature this week.

Until now, the rigidity of endoscopes and the inadequate quality of the images they transmit have limited their application. Here Dvir Yelin and colleagues overcome the limitations of conventional fibre-optic imaging bundles by using a single optical fibre, configured so that light of different wavelengths is projected onto different parts of the internal tissue surface. The light signals are then decoded outside the body, and a second dimension is added by moving the fibre using an external motor.

The team demonstrate their 'spectrally encoded endoscopy' technology by imaging ovarian tumour nodules in mice. The advanced features of the device will allow safer internal navigation in delicate operations, the authors point out.


Dvir Yelin (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 724 1359; E-mail: [email protected]


[12] Evolution of the continental crust (pp 811-817)

[13] The Mg-chelatase H subunit is an abscisic; acid receptor (pp 823-826)

[14] Spatially regulated ubiquitin ligation by an ER/nuclear membrane ligase (827-831)

[15] Experimental purification of two-atom entanglement (pp 838-841)

[16] Eastern Pacific cooling and Atlantic overturning circulation during the last deglaciation
(pp 846-849)

[17] An early evolutionary origin for the minor spliceosome (pp 863-866)

[18] Direct observation of individual RecA filaments assembling on single DNA molecules
(pp 875-878)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 18 October 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 19 October, but at a later date.***

[19] Deuterostome phylogeny reveals monophyletic chordates and the new phylum Xenoturbellida
DOI: 10.1038/nature05241

[20] Structural basis for messenger RNAmovement on the Ribosome
DOI: 10.1038/nature05281


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: 6

Clayton: 6

Edinburgh: 4

Melbourne: 6

Townsville: 10, 12


Brandon: 9

Halifax: 16, 17

Ottawa: 9

Vancouver: 16


Beijing: 13


Gif-sur-Yvette: 5

Illkirch: 20

Paris: 5

Plouzane: 1

Strasbourg: 1

Bremen: 1, 16
Bremerhaven: 1
Darmstadt: 9

Hamburg: 9

Jena: 9

Kaiserslautern: 9

Kassel: 9

Ulm: 15


Naples: 10

Rome: 10


Nagoya: 10

Okayama: 9

Tokyo: 9, 10


Luxembourg: 9


Witwatersrand: 5


Valencia: 8


Fiskebackskil: 19


Soest: 9

Utrecht: 9


Aberdeen: 10

Aberystwyth: 9

Bristol: 12

Edinburgh: 9

London: 3, 9, 19

Oxford: 3, 19


Birmingham: 10

Tuscaloosa: 9


Tuscon: 9

Berkeley: 9, 19

Davis: 10, 18

La Jolla: 3

San Diego: 10

San Francisco: 10


Boulder: 15

New Haven: 14

District of Columbia

Washington: 4


Gainesville: 10

St Augustine: 19


Athens: 9

Augusta: 10

Chicago: 9, 19

Peoria: 9


Iowa City: 9


Lawrence: 9


Lexington: 10

Orono: 9

Baltimore: 10

Beltsville: 9

Boston: 11, 19

Cambridge: 2, 5, 9, 19

Woods Hole: 16

Worcester: 9

Lansing: 10

St Paul: 9
New York

Ithaca: 9

New York: 4, 9

Yorktown Heights: 2
North Carolina

Durham: 6, 9

Morehead City: 9


Corvallis: 9, 16

Hood River: 9

Philadelphia: 10

University Park: 9


Knoxville: 9

Nashville: 10

Bothell: 10

Pullman: 9

West Virginia

Morgantown: 9


Madison: 10


For North America and Canada

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington

Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail: [email protected]

From Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan

Itsumi Kitahara, Nature Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; Fax: +81 3 3267 87

E-mail: [email protected]

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above

Katherine Anderson, Nature London

Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail [email protected]

About Nature Publishing Group

Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd, dedicated to serving the academic, professional scientific and medical communities. NPG's flagship title, Nature, was first published in 1869. Other publications include Nature research journals, Nature Reviews, Nature Clinical Practice and a range of prestigious academic journals including society-owned publications. NPG also provides news content through [email protected] and scientific career information through Naturejobs.

NPG is a global company with headquarters in London and offices in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, Tokyo, Paris, Munich, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Delhi, Mexico City and Basingstoke. For more information, please go to <>.

Published: 18 Oct 2006

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Environmental Microbiology