Human evolution: Same place, same time

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Ultrafast X-rays: ‘Dusty mirror’ gets a makeover, Neurology: Ubiquitin is ubiquitous in Huntington’s disease, Biodiversity: Insects get tropical, Physics: Ultracold matters, Recycling in the Earth's mantle, Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Understanding antidepressants

This press release is copyright Nature.
VOL.448 NO.7154 DATED 09 AUGUST 2007

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Human evolution: Same place, same time

Ultrafast X-rays: ‘Dusty mirror’ gets a makeover

Neurology: Ubiquitin is ubiquitous in Huntington’s disease

Biodiversity: Insects get tropical

Physics: Ultracold matters

Geology: Recycling in the Earth's mantle

News: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Neuroscience: Understanding antidepressants

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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Human evolution: Same place, same time

Two fossils discovered in Kenya cast doubt on theories of the early evolution of the genus Homo. They show that the species H. habilis and H. erectus — previously thought to have evolved one after the other — actually lived side-by-side in eastern Africa for almost half a million years. The H. erectus fossil is the smallest ever found, suggesting that this species was not as human-like as once thought. Fred Spoor and colleagues describe the fossils and discuss their wider evolutionary implications in this week’s Nature.

The east-African hominins H. habilis and the generally larger and later H. erectus are often regarded as part of the same pre-human lineage. The new fossils, uncovered east of Lake Turkana in Kenya, now challenge the relationship between these two species. The researchers attribute the first specimen, fragments of an upper jaw bone, to H. habilis. These bones provide the last known occurrence date for this species — 1.44 million years ago — which is significantly younger than previous estimates. The second fossil, a beautifully preserved H. erectus skull from 1.55 million years ago, is remarkable because it is close to the average size of H. habilis. This indicates that the species displayed substantial sexual dimorphism with the male being much larger than the female, like modern day gorillas.

The new dates show that H. habilis and H. erectus did in fact live at the same time in the Turkana basin for nearly half a million years. Their co-existence makes it unlikely that H. erectus evolved from H. habilis — both species must have originated between 2 and 3 million years ago, a time from which few Homo fossils are known. The authors conclude that, because they stayed as separate individual species for such a long time, they probably each had their own ecological niche and avoided direct competition with each other.


Fred Spoor (University College London, UK)
Please note the author is currently based in Kenya:
Tel: +254 727 497 787 or +254 20 375 2337
Satellite phone: +88 216 5115 6558
E-mail: [email protected]

Additional author contacts:
Meave Leakey (Koobi Fora Research Project, Kenya)
Satellite phone: +88 216 5115 6558
E-mail: [email protected]

Louise Leakey (Koobi Fora Research Project, Kenya)
Tel: +254 722 528 586
E-mail: [email protected]

Ultrafast X-rays: ‘Dusty mirror’ gets a makeover (pp 676-679; N&V)

Inspired by an old optics experiment carried out by Isaac Newton, researchers have devised a scheme to study microscopic particles with intense ultrafast X-ray pulses. It’s thought this type of X-ray ‘flash’ imaging may be used to explore the three-dimensional dynamics of materials at the timescale of atomic motion.

Newton was puzzled by the circular patterns that appeared when he illuminated a silver-plated mirror. As it turned out, this was caused by interference between two paths of light scattering from dust particles on the front of the mirror — one path of light on its way towards the mirror, and one reflecting from the silvered surface. In this week’s Nature, Henry N. Chapman and colleagues describe a modern, more dynamic version of this ‘dusty mirror’ experiment that uses X-rays.

The team fired their ultrafast light source at a thin membrane containing polystyrene particles placed in front of a mirrored backplate. The incident X-rays cause the polystyrene particles to explode, and they then hit the polystyrene particles a second time as they are reflected back from the mirrored plate. The resulting interference pattern can be used to retrieve information about the polystyrene particles with high time and space resolution.


Henry N. Chapman (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 925 423 1580; E-mail: [email protected]

Andrea Cavalleri (University of Oxford, UK) N&V author
Tel: +44 1865 272 365; E-mail: [email protected]

Neurology: Ubiquitin is ubiquitous in Huntington’s disease (pp 704-708)

The link between Huntington’s disease and a protein known as ubiquitin may be greater than previously thought, according to a paper to be published online this week in Nature.

Huntington’s disease is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder, characterized by the accumulation of protein fragments in affected neurons. These so-called inclusion bodies are often abnormally enriched with ubiquitin, suggesting that alterations in the metabolism of this protein might contribute to the disease. Using mass spectrometry, Ron R. Kopito and colleagues systematically analysed the brains of patients with Huntington’s disease as well as two different mouse models of the disease. All of the brain samples contained an abundance of chains of polyubiquitin, establishing changes in the ubiquitin system as a consistent feature of Huntington’s disease pathology.

Protein modification with polyubiquitin chains regulates many essential cellular processes — such as the cell cycle and DNA repair — so altered ubiquitin signalling is likely to have broad consequences for the function and survival of neurons. The authors propose that their technique might be used to achieve a deeper insight into the molecular basis of a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.


Ron R. Kopito (Stanford University, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 723 7581; E-mail: [email protected]

Biodiversity: Insects get tropical (pp 692-695; 696-699; N&V)

The biodiversity of plant-eating insects across the lowland tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea may be high, but species tend to be widely distributed. The finding, reported in this week's Nature, has implications for conservation strategies.

Vojtech Novotny and colleagues studied around 500 species of butterfly caterpillars, beetles and fruitflies over 75,000 square kilometres of contiguous rainforest. Although species richness was high, as would be expected for the tropics, the species found did not alter much even over hundreds of kilometres, despite a range of different geological terrains.

Host plant specificity of caterpillars, on the other hand, decreases as distance from the equator increases, according to a second paper by Lee A. Dyer and colleagues. So the number of specialist species decreases with increasing latitude. The finding is timely, as biologists have discussed the latitudinal gradient in ecological specialization since the time of Darwin and Wallace, yet quantitative evidence for its existence has been hard to find.


Vojtech Novotny (New Guinea Binatang Research Center, Madang, Papua New Guinea)
Author paper [3]
Tel: +675 853 3258; Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Scott E. Miller (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA) Co-author paper [3]
Tel: +1 202 633 5135; E- mail: [email protected]

Lee A. Dyer (Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, USA) Author paper [4]
Tel: +1 504 862 8288; E-mail: [email protected]

Nigel E. Stork (University of Melbourne, Australia) N&V author
Tel: +61 3 9250 6806; E-mail: [email protected]

Physics: Ultracold matters (pp 672-675)

A quantum gas, in which magnetic long-range forces between the atoms are as important as are collisions, is described for the first time in Nature this week. The unusual properties observed could allow researchers to go on to investigate exotic new quantum states of matter.

A quantum ferrofluid is a superfluid quantum gas consisting of atoms with magnetic properties. The authors demonstrate that the magnetic forces become comparable in strength to the ordinary collisional interactions between atoms, leading to a pronounced change in the shape of the atom cloud.

Thierry Lahaye and colleagues report that these results are the first step in the exploration of the unique properties of quantum ferrofluids.


Thierry Lahaye (Universitat Stuttgart, Germany)
Tel: +49 711 685 64951; E-mail: [email protected]

Geology: Recycling in the Earth's mantle (pp 684-687; N&V)

Subducted continental sediments, recycled in the Earth’s mantle, can be observed in Samoan lavas, a Nature study reveals this week.

It's known that large amounts of land-derived sediments are recycled at subduction zones, but their subsequent fate in the Earth's mantle is less clear. Matthew G. Jackson and colleagues analysed the isotope signature of submarine Samoan lavas, finding clear evidence for the presence of recycled upper continental crust in the Samoan mantle.

The present findings also support the idea that recycled continental material is involved in the formation of one of the mantle's isotopically distinct geochemical reservoirs, the so-called enriched mantle 2 'EM2' component.


Matthew G. Jackson (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 320 2376; E-mail: [email protected]

Albrecht W. Hofmann (Max-Planck Institut fur Chemie, Mainz, Germany) N&V author
E-mail: [email protected]
(Please note we are trying to obtain a telephone number for this author)


Intense mixing of lower thermocline water on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (pp 709-713)

DNMT3L connects unmethylated lysine 4 of histone H3 to de novo methylation of DNA (pp 714-717)

Recognition of unmethylated histone H3 lysine 4 links BHC80 to LSD1-mediated gene repression (pp 718-722)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 08 August 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 09 August, but at a later date.***

Protection of telomeres through independent control of ATM and ATR by TRF2 and POT1
DOI: 10.1038/nature06065

An IRF8-binding promoter variant and AIRE control CHRNA1 promiscuous expression in thymus
DOI: 10.1038/nature06066

Glycosphingolipid synthesis requires FAPP2 transfer of glucosylceramide
DOI: 10.1038/nature06097


News: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

A German economist, specialising in environmental science and technology, has survived a full career in academia despite having at times provided false academic affiliations — including from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, which threatened him with legal action — and having allegedly engaged in repeated plagiarism.

A graduate of the University of Munich, Hans Werner Gottinger moved frequently between universities and research institutes around the world, including several in Germany, and now lives in Ingolstadt. The case comes to light as the journal Research Policy retracts a 1993 paper by him on grounds of plagiarism. Nature’s report considers how he might have got away with such deception for so long.

Contact for background information:
Alison Abbott (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +49 89 549 057 13, or: +49 172 997 8844; E-mail: [email protected]

Neuroscience: Understanding antidepressants (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature06038

A glimpse of the mechanism involved in antidepressant block of neurotransmitter transporters in the brain is revealed in a paper published online by Nature this week. Eric Gouaux and colleagues wanted to understand the previously elusive action of tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), to aid the design of new inhibitors.

In humans, inhibiting sodium-coupled transporters has an important role in the treatment of a broad range of neurological diseases and conditions. Gouaux and his team provide mechanistic insights into how such transport proteins are blocked by solving the structure of a prokayotic homologue, in complex with various TCAs, at high resolution. They identify an extracellular-facing cavity in the protein as the site of TCA action and thus as a site with therapeutic potential.

Eric Gouaux (Oregon Health and Science University/HHMI,Portland, OR, USA)
Tel: +1 503 494 5535; E-mail: [email protected]


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.

Brisbane: 3

Brasilia: 4

Branisovska: 3

Quito: 4

Turku: 12

Garches: 11
Paris: 11
Strasbourg: 11

Berlin: 1
Hamburg: 1
Heidelberg: 11
Stuttgart: 5

Chieti: 12
Naples: 9
Trieste: 11

Ancon: 3
Panama City: 4

Madang: 3

Uppsala: 1

Taipei: 8

Brighton: 3
London: 2, 12
Manchester: 11
Oxford: 11, 12

Berkeley: 1
La Jolla: 6
Livermore: 1
Menlo Park: 1, 2
Sacramento: 1
Stanford: 2, 9

Middletown: 4
Storrs: 4

District of Columbia
Washington: 3, 4

Tallahassee: 7

Atlanta: 8, 9

New Orleans: 4

Boston: 9
Woods Hole: 6

East Lansing: 3

St Paul: 3

St Louis: 4

New York
Palisades: 7
New York: 8, 10

Dayton: 4

Corvallis: 6

South Carolina
Charleston: 12

Salt Lake City: 4


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
Mika Nakano, 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: 08 Aug 2007

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Environmental Science and Technology