Australian treasure trove

Summaries of newsworthy papers from Nature include Cancer cleared by p53 restoration, Algorithm seeks out smell, Essays: Putting the pieces together, Quantum physics: To bunch or not to bunch and Fight-watching fish fathom hierarchies


This press release is copyright Nature.
VOL.445 NO.7126 DATED 25 JANUARY 2007

This press release contains:

* Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Relics: Australian treasure trove

Oncology: Cancer cleared by p53 restoration

Information theory: Algorithm seeks out smell

Essays: Putting the pieces together

Quantum physics: To bunch or not to bunch

And finally… Fight-watching fish fathom hierarchies

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

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[1] Relics: Australian treasure trove (pp 422-425)

A fossil treasure trove from caves beneath the arid, treeless Nullarbor Plain of western Australia offers a rare glimpse of life in that continent in the middle Pleistocene, before human arrival.

In this week’s Nature, Gavin J. Prideaux and colleagues report a glut of fossils, including 69 vertebrate species and one mollusc that lived between around 800,000 and 200,000 years ago. They include 23 kangaroo species, 8 of which are previously undescribed.

But despite the remarkable diversity of animals and plants, the climate seems to have been similar to that of today. The result that fossils appear well adapted to dry conditions suggests that climate change alone cannot have been responsible for the subsequent wave of extinctions that swept away most of this Australian megafauna.


Gavin J. Prideaux (Western Australian Museum, Perth, Autstralia)
Tel: +61 8 9212 3757; E-mail: [email protected]

Please note the following co-authors will also be available for comment:

Richard Roberts (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Tel: +61 2 4221 5319; E-mail: [email protected]

John Long (Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia)
Tel: +61 3 8341 7420; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] & [3] Oncology: Cancer cleared by p53 restoration (AOP; N&V)
DOI: 10.1038/nature05529
DOI: 10.1038/nature05541

***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 24 January 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 25 January, but at a later date.***

Certain types of cancer can be pushed into regression by reactivating the tumour suppressor gene p53, suggest two papers published online by Nature this week. Although both studies used genetic tricks to achieve their effects, they lend support to the idea that p53-boosting drugs could be a useful form of cancer treatment.

p53, which is mutated or inactivated by other alterations in most human cancers, is one of the most studied genes in cancer. But we still don't know whether established tumours can survive and progress if p53 is re-activated. Groups led by Scott W. Lowe and Tyler Jacks now show that even brief reactivation of endogenous p53 can cause a variety of cancers to completely regress in a handful of animal models.

The mechanism of regression appears tumour-specific. Jacks' team find that lymphoma cells are coaxed to commit suicide, whilst sarcoma cells start to senesce. Lowe's team report a novel mechanism in their liver carcinoma model whereby cell senescence appears linked to an innate immune response - certain inflammatory molecules are up-regulated, which then help to clear the cancer cells.


Scott W. Lowe (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NY, USA) Author paper [2]
Tel: +1 516 367 8406; E-mail: [email protected]

Tyler Jacks (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA) Author paper [3]
Tel: +1 617 253 0262; E-mail: [email protected]

Ronald A. DePinho (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 617 632 6085; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Information theory: Algorithm seeks out smell (pp 406-409; N&V)

A newly developed algorithm, described in this week’s Nature, could help robotic ‘sniffers’ source smells more effectively.

As odours disperse over distance, their ‘trail’ becomes patchy. So when a smelly spot is found, the searcher can either ‘exploit’ this information and guess where the source is, or explore further and work out a more accurate location. The algorithm developed by Boris I. Shraiman and colleagues describes the best trade-off between the two strategies, which yields the optimal search route.

The strategy, which may find use in chemical detection devices, is similar to the method that bacteria use to find their food, known as chemotaxis. But whereas the microbes use uninterrupted local concentration gradients, the algorithm is based on patchy cues and partial information. The authors call their strategy ‘infotaxis’ because it directs the searcher along the route that maximizes the rate of information gain.


Boris I. Shraiman (University of California Santa Barbara, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 805 893 8648; E-mail: [email protected]

Dominique Martinez (LORIA-CNRS, Vandoeuvre-Les-Nancy, France) N&V author
Tel: +33 3 83 59 30 72; E-mail: [email protected]

Essays: Putting the pieces together

There are times in the history of science when a shift in approach is so extensive that a complete story can be told only by collecting the thoughts and perspectives of many practitioners from diverse fields. This issue sees the launch of a themed essay series - Connections - which aims to do just that. Week-by-week, scientists from various disciplines explain how a systems approach, in parallel with, if not in place of, the reductionism that dominated twentieth-century science, promises to yield fresh insight, and in some cases, to challenge the most widely held concepts of their field. The first essay of the series by Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese argues that the emerging picture of microbes as gene-swapping entities demands a revision of such concepts as organism, species and evolution itself.

[5] Quantum physics: To bunch or not to bunch (pp 402-405; N&V)

Researchers have demonstrated bunching and anti-bunching behaviour of atoms in a single experiment. The atoms fall into two types: bosons and fermions, which are quantum particles governed by different statistics. A stream of bosons tends to bunch together, whereas fermions avoid each other or ‘anti-bunch’. In this week’s Nature, Christoph I. Westbrook and colleagues directly compare both types of quantum statistics in the same experiment - the first time that this has been done.

They use 3He atoms as their source of fermions and 4He as their source of bosons, all within the same apparatus.


Christoph I. Westbrook (Institut d'Optique, CNRS, Palaiseau, France)
Tel: +33 1 69 35 87 09; E-mail: [email protected]

Maciej Lewenstein (Institut de Ciencies Foteniques, Barcelona, Spain) N&V author
Tel: +34 9 35 53 40 72; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] And finally… Fight-watching fish fathom hierarchies (pp 429-432)

Fish can work out who is ‘top dog’ by watching fights between rivals, a paper in this week’s Nature suggests.

Logan Grosenick and colleagues found that male cichlids (Astatotilapia burtoni) that watched a series of staged fights between pairs of unfamiliar rivals were able to infer the relative dominance of these fish. The territorial fish show rudiments of logical reasoning, and the study suggests that cichlids have the capacity for transitive inference - the ability to deduce unknown relationships based on knowledge of known relationships.

Remarkably, the fish do this indirectly, as ‘bystanders’, without any reinforcement or reward, and they also make sophisticated use of contextual information.


Logan Grosenick (Stanford University, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 283 0010; E-mail: [email protected]


[7] Empirical fitness landscapes reveal accessible evolutionary paths (pp 383-386)

[8] An unexpected cooling effect in Saturn’s upper atmosphere (pp 399-401)

[9] Transformation of spin information into large electrical signals using carbon nanotubes (pp 410-413)

[10] A 160-kilobit molecular electronic memory patterned at 1011 bits per square centimeter (pp 414-417)

[11] Inconsistent correlation of seismic layer 2a and lava layer thickness in oceanic crust (pp 418-421)

[12] Retention of transcriptionally active cryptophyte nuclei by the ciliate Myrionecta rubra (pp 426-428)

[13] Mitotic occupancy and lineage-specific transcriptional control of rRNA genes by Runx2 (pp 442-446)


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.


Buenos Aires: 9


Adelaide: 1

Canberra: 1

Melbourne: 1

Perth: 1

Sydney: 1

Wollongong: 1


Concepcion: 13

Santiago: 13


Marseille: 3

Orsay: 9

Palaiseau: 5

Paris: 4


Bologna: 9


Amsterdam: 5, 7


Barcelona: 9


Cambridge: 9

London: 8



Birmingham: 13


Berkeley: 9

Los Angeles: 10

Pasadena: 10

San Jose: 6

Santa Barbara: 9

Stanford: 6


Boulder: 8


Baltimore: 12

Cambridge: 12

Chevy Chase: 3

College Park: 12


Boston: 3, 8

Cambridge: 3, 7, 13

Worcester: 13

New Jersey

New Brunswick: 12

New York

Cold Spring Harbor: 2

New York: 2

Syracuse: 11


Columbus: 10


Pittsburgh: 10


Rhode Island: 7


Austin: 11


Salt Lake City: 1


For North America and Canada

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington

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

For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan

Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail: m.nakano[email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above

Helen Jamison, Nature London

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

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Published: 25 Jan 2007

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