Extreme weather: A look from the lagoon

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Biophysics: Clustering key to membrane remodelling, Optical materials: Semiconducting nanocrystals light up the way, Evolution: Paddlefish clues to limb development


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VOL.447 NO.7143 DATED 24 MAY 2007

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Extreme weather: A look from the lagoon

Biophysics: Clustering key to membrane remodelling

Optical materials: Semiconducting nanocrystals light up the way

Evolution: Paddlefish clues to limb development

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[1] Extreme weather: A look from the lagoon (pp 465-468)

Changes in the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and the strength of the West African monsoon have played an important part in controlling the frequency of intense hurricanes in the tropical North Atlantic over the past 5,000 years, a Nature study suggests.

Jeffrey P. Donnelly and Jonathan D. Woodruff constructed a long-term record of intense hurricane activity in the western tropical North Atlantic Ocean. Storms associated with intense hurricanes that strike the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico deposit layers of coarse, sandy material in a lagoon, so the authors used sediment cores from the lagoon to reconstruct the frequency of intense hurricanes in this area over the last 5,000 years.

Their record shows striking similarities to records of El Niño events and rainfall in tropical Africa, suggesting that changes in the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and the strength of the West African monsoon had an important role in controlling the frequency of intense hurricanes in the tropical North Atlantic over this interval.

The lengthy time-interval studied helps to clarify the factors that control hurricane activity, because instrumental records only cover the past few decades. Furthermore, the results suggest that it is important to understand how the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and the West African monsoon will respond to future climate change to accurately predict changes in intense hurricane activity.


Jeffrey P. Donnelly (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 508 294 2994; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Biophysics: Clustering key to membrane remodelling (pp 461-464; N&V)

A sophisticated simulation study in this week’s Nature reveals a trick that many membrane-bound proteins could use to vastly amplify their own effect on the shape of the membranes they are interacting with.

Biological membranes are much more than passive physical barriers: changes in their shape are linked to important cellular tasks such as endocytosis and protein sorting. It’s known that specialized proteins can sense and create membrane curvature, but the energy needed to accomplish complex membrane remodelling — large changes in membrane shape or topology — is only available when several proteins act together. But how do they coordinate their action?

Kurt Kremer and colleagues now show that a single protein interacting with a membrane causes local changes in membrane shape. Importantly, this attracts other proteins in the vicinity, which then cluster together yielding enough energy for the membrane to be remodelled, allowing, for example, vesicles to be formed.


Kurt Kremer (Max-Planck-Institut fur Polymerforschung, Mainz, Germany)
Tel: +49 6131 379 140; E-mail: [email protected]

Michael M. Kozlov (Tel Aviv University, Israel) N&V author
Tel: +972 3 640 7863; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Optical materials: Semiconducting nanocrystals light up the way (pp 441-446; N&V)

A new type of nanocrystal that can be used as a laser material is reported in this week's Nature. 'Soft' optical materials like this can easily be processed in solution, offering flexibility for laser design, and the devices may find use in applications including lab-on-a-chip technologies and quantum information processing devices.

Semiconductor nanocrystals have excellent light-emitting properties, making them good candidates for use in laser applications. But achieving the crucial condition for lasing — optical amplification — has proved problematic: normally the nanocrystals need to contain at least two excitons (electron–hole pairs, which are the precursors for light emission in semiconductors), but owing to the nanocrystal’s tiny size, the excitons annihilate each other before optical amplification can occur.

Victor I. Klimov and colleagues circumvent this problem by designing nanocrystals with cores and shells made from different semiconductor materials, in such a way that electrons and holes are physically isolated from each other. In such engineered nanocrystals, only one exciton per nanocrystal is required for optical amplification, as has here been experimentally demonstrated by Klimov and colleagues. This opens the door to practical use in laser applications.


Victor I. Klimov (Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM, USA)
Tel: +1 505 665 8284; E-mail: [email protected]

Todd D. Krauss (University of Rochester, NY, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 585 275 5093; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Evolution: Paddlefish clues to limb development (pp 473-476)

The limbs of tetrapods — land-living vertebrates — are usually thought to have been evolutionary innovations unique to that group. However, traces of limbs can be found in the development of primitive ray-finned fishes, according to a report in this week’s Nature.

The perceived uniqueness of the tetrapod limb may be a reflection of comparisons with fishes, notably the zebrafish (Danio rerio), which is often used as a model organism in embryological studies. However, the zebrafish is rather highly evolved, meaning that rather than lacking vestiges of limbs to begin with, it could have lost them during its ancestry. This latter possibility seems most likely following Neil Shubin and colleagues' study of Hox-gene expression in the development of the fins of a 'living fossil', the paddlefish Polyodon spathula.

Polyodon is one of the few relics of a type of bony fish common in the seas in the Palaeozoic era, more than 250 million years ago. Hox-gene expression in the developing fins of Polyodon shows patterns long considered to be tetrapod hallmarks. This finding demonstrates that some aspects of limb development are primitive and held in common by all bony fish — but have been lost in highly evolved fishes such as the zebrafish.


Neil Shubin (University of Chicago, IL, USA)
Tel: +1 773 834 7472; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] An unusually brilliant transient in the galaxy M85 (pp 458-460)

[6] Evolution of cooperation in a finite homogeneous graph (pp 469-472)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 23 May 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 24 May, but at a later date.***

[7] Lateral habenula as a source of negative reward signals in dopamine neurons

DOI: 10.1038/nature05860

[8] Mechanism of coupled folding and binding of an intrinsically disordered protein

DOI: 10.1038/nature05858


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.


Kingston: 6


Mainz: 2


Osaka: 8



Tucson: 5


Berkeley: 5

La Jolla: 8


Honolulu: 5


Chicago: 4


Bethesda: 7


Woods Hole: 1

New Mexico

Los Alamos: 3


State College: 5


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Published: 23 May 2007

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