Manipulating magnetization direction towards better memories

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Astronomy: Star light, star bright, Infectious disease: The GILTy party and Quantum Flicks: Now you see them, now you don't


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.455 NO.7212 DATED 25 SEPTEMBER 2008

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Astronomy: Star light, star bright

Infectious disease: The GILTy party

Information Processing: Manipulating magnetization direction towards better memories

Quantum Flicks: Now you see them, now you don't

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] & [2] Astronomy: Star light, star bright (pp 503-505; pp 506-509; N&V)

Scientists have observed a series of very bright and rapid optical flares coming from deep space. Two papers in Nature this week analyse the electromagnetic properties of these flares and conclude that the source could be an isolated neutron star whose bursting activity has been detected at optical wavelengths.

‘Soft-gamma repeaters’ (SGRs) emit bursts of X-rays and gamma-rays at irregular intervals. The bursts are thought to come from neutron stars with extremely powerful magnetic fields, known as ‘magnetars’, which release large amounts of electromagnetic radiation as they decay. Scientists have seen outbursts of X-rays and gamma-rays lasting for a few seconds at a time, but until now flaring activities have not been observed on similar timescales at optical wavelengths.

Alexander Stefanescu and colleagues examined a series of spectacular flashes coming from the Galactic transient known as SWIFT J195509 over several days in June 2007, after first being discovered by its gamma-ray emission. By getting to the source quickly after the gamma-ray trigger, and looking at high time resolution, they detected optical flaring activity of unprecedented violence — the source brightened by a factor of at least 200 in just 4 seconds.

In a separate paper, Alberto Castro-Tirado and colleagues report multi-wavelength observations of the same source. They detected more than 40 flaring episodes June 2007. They suggest that the source of the flares is an isolated magnetar whose bursting activity has been detected at optical wavelengths; perhaps representing a transient SGR halfway between a persistent SGR and a dim isolated neutron star.

Alexander Stefanescu (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany) Author paper [1]
Tel: +49 89 300 003 853; E-mail: [email protected]

Alberto Castro-Tirado (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía-CSIC, Granada, Spain) Author paper [2]
Tel: +34 958 12 13 11; E-mail: [email protected]

Chryssa Kouveliotou (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 256 961 7604; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Infectious disease: The GILTy party (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature07344

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 24 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 25 September, but at a later date. ***

A host factor that helps a strain of food-poisoning bacteria to escape the immune response is reported online this week in Nature. The finding offers a new therapeutic target for a disease where antibiotic resistance is a growing concern.

Infection with Listeria monocytogenes causes severe sickness that can in some cases be lethal and is a particular worry for pregnant women. The deadliness of the bacteria is partly due to its ability to evade the immune response with the help of a toxin known as listeriolysin O. Listeriolysin O is produced by the bacteria but first has to be activated to perform its task. Peter Cresswell and colleagues show that the host factor GILT is responsible for activating the bacterial toxin. Mice that don’t have GILT are resistant to Listeria infection.

The team also show that GILT can activate a similar toxin from a different bacterial strain, suggesting that the host protein may be important for diseases caused by other related organisms.

Peter Cresswell (Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA)
Tel: +1 203 785 5176; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Information Processing: Manipulating magnetization direction towards better memories (pp 515-518)

Hard-disk drives and magnetic memories rely on processes that involve switching magnetization direction, a feat normally achieved by applying a current-generated magnetic field. A paper in this week’s Nature describes the direct control of magnetization direction in a semiconductor using an electric field instead, opening the way to devices that could combine data processing with non-volatile memory.

Until now, using electric fields to manipulate magnetization in a semiconductor was possible only after resorting to mechanically generated strain — far from suitable for practical applications. To achieve purely electrical control, Hideo Ohno and colleagues used a ferromagnetic semiconductor whose magnetic properties were coupled to the concentration of ‘carrier’ holes it contained. They were then able to manipulate the magnetic direction in response to an applied electric field that altered the carrier concentration.

The authors suggest that their findings could lead to a totally new scheme for operating non-volatile memory and logic devices.

Hideo Ohno (Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan)
Tel: +81 22 217 5553; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Quantum Flicks: Now you see them, now you don't (pp 510-514)

A paper in this week’s Nature describes the engineering and reconstruction of different states of trapped light, recorded in images captured often enough to provide a movie of the process.

It is not easy to reconstruct quantum states of light, as photons need to be trapped inside cavities that can store them for long periods. Serge Haroche and colleagues have managed to do this by using a system of highly reflecting mirrors that allows the photons to survive long enough to be measured repeatedly by atoms crossing the cavity one at a time.

Photons in different quantum states show oscillations that are erased as classical features are assumed. This process — known as ‘decoherence’ — gave the researchers an opportunity to follow the transition in a series of snapshots.

Extending their method to two separate trapping cavities could provide applications in photonic memories and teleportation of quantum states.

Serge Haroche (Ecole Normale Supériure, Paris, France)
Tel: +33 1 44 32 34 20; E-mail: [email protected]


[6] Frequency-modulated nuclear localization bursts coordinate gene regulation (pp 485-490)

[7] Crystal structure of opsin in its G-protein-interacting conformation (pp 497-502; N&V)

[8] Observed and modelled stability of overflow across the Greenland–Scotland ridge (pp 519-522)

[9] Intraseasonal interaction between the Madden–Julian Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation (pp 523-527)

[10] FcRn-mediated antibody transport across epithelial cells revealed by electron tomography (pp 542-546)


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

[11] Activity-dependent regulation of inhibitory synapse development by Npas4
DOI: 10.1038/nature07319

[12] ROS3 is an RNA-binding protein required for DNA demethylation in Arabidopsis
DOI: 10.1038/nature07305

[13] Promoter-driven splicing regulation in fission yeast
DOI: 10.1038/nature07325

[14] Histone H2A.Z and DNA methylation are mutually antagonistic chromatin marks
DOI: 10.1038/nature07324


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.

Vienna: 3

Santiago: 2

Shanghai: 12

Ondrejov: 2

Copenhagen: 8

Torshavn: 8

Paris: 5
Saint Martin d’Hères: 2
Toulouse: 9

Berlin: 7
Bonn: 2
Garching: 1
Hamburg: 8
Tautenburg: 2

Heraklion: 1

NainiTal: 2

Cork: 2
Dublin: 2

Sendai: 4
Tokyo: 4

Amsterdam: 2

Bergen: 8

Torun: 1
Warsaw: 4

Nizhnij Arkhyz: 2

Singapore: 10

Chonju: 7

Barcelona: 13
Granada: 2
Jaén: 2
La Laguna: 2
Madrid: 2

Sauverny: 2

Adana: 2

Nauchny: 2
Nikolaev: 2

Leicester: 2
London: 7


Berkeley: 14
Pasadena: 6, 10
Riverside: 12

Boulder: 10

New Haven: 3

College Park: 12

Boston: 11
Worcester: 11

Kansas City: 13
St Louis: 12

Austin: 2
Houston: 11

Seattle: 14


From North America and Canada
Katherine Anderson, Nature New York
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail: [email protected]

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail: [email protected]

From Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail: [email protected]

From the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Jen Middleton, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail [email protected]

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Published: 24 Sep 2008

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