Gut bacteria specialized for sushi

Gut bacteria specialized for sushi; Images of a most unusual eclipse; Grazers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions; How the fly got its spots; Stretching the deep crust; How is the Global Green New Deal going?; A device for memory and logic; Learning gets neurons to work together; The shape of weight gain; Following the leader?

NATURE AND THE NATURE RESEARCH JOURNALS PRESS RELEASE

For papers that will be published online on 07 April 2010

This press release is copyrighted to the Nature journals mentioned below.

This press release contains:

-Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Microbiology: Gut bacteria specialized for sushi

Astronomy: Images of a most unusual eclipse

Ecology: Grazers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Developmental biology: How the fly got its spots

Tectonics: Stretching the deep crust

Opinion: How is the Global Green New Deal going?

Semiconductors: A device for memory and logic

Behaviour: Learning gets neurons to work together

Biology: The shape of weight gain

And finally… Following the leader?

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[1] Microbiology: Gut bacteria specialized for sushi (pp 908-912; N&V)

Gut bacteria in Japanese but not North American individuals carry genes for digesting marine algae, reveals a study in this week’s Nature. Gut microbes carry enzymes that are not encoded by the human genome, but which allow humans to obtain energy from the carbohydrates of terrestrial plants.

Mirjam Czjzek and colleagues have now characterized carbohydrate-digesting enzymes from a marine bacterium that feeds on a species of red algae. By also comparing the gut metagenome data of 13 Japanese volunteers and 18 North Americans, the team show that the genes encoding these enzymes have been transferred to the gut bacterium of Japanese but not North American individuals.

Seaweeds have long had an important role in Japanese culture; for example, tax records from the eighth century list seaweed as a form of payment to the Japanese government. Thus, contact with marine microbes via eating sushi is likely to have provided the route by which genes for digesting marine algae have been transferred from one ecosystem, the ocean, to a very different one — the human gut.

Author contact:
Mirjam Czjzek (Station Biologique de Roscoff, France)
Tel: +33 298 292 375; E-mail: [email protected]

Justin Sonnenberg (Stanford University, CA, USA)
N&V Author
E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Astronomy: Images of a most unusual eclipse (pp 870-872; N&V)

An eclipsing binary star system that has been perplexing astronomers for almost 200 years is starting to give up its secrets, thanks to some remarkable images published this week in Nature.

The system, known as epsilon Aurigae, is located about 2,000 light years from the Earth — so far away that the primary star spans less than one-millionth of a degree of arc on the sky. Its eclipses, which occur every 27.1 years and last for about 18 months, have been observed since the 1820s, but the nature of the unseen eclipsing companion has remained controversial. The eclipses' long duration seemed to require a dark, extended object, much larger than a star, and in recent years the preferred model has called for a cool, opaque disk surrounding a companion star.

Brian Kloppenborg and colleagues have succeeded in obtaining images of epsilon Aurigae, which show a tilted, elliptical body moving in front of the primary star. The data were collected using an array of six 1-metre telescopes, which when used together as an 'interferometer' have a spatial resolution far surpassing that of the Hubble Space Telescope. The images confirm that the eclipsing body is a disk, and allow the authors to estimate the dimensions and masses of all three components in the system, including the companion star shrouded by the disk.

Author contact:
Brian Kloppenborg (University of Denver, CO, USA)
co-author
Tel: +1 303 871 4505; E-mail: [email protected]

Robert Stencel (University of Denver, CO, USA)
co-author
Tel: +1 303 871 2135; E-mail: [email protected]

John D. Monnier (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA)
co-author
Tel: +1 734 763 5822; E-mail: [email protected]

Harold A. McAlister (Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA) –
co-author
Tel: +1 404 413 5480; E-mail: [email protected]

Edward Guinan (Villanova University, PA, USA)
N&V Author
Tel: +1 610 519 4823; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Ecology: Grazers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (pp 881-884; N&V)

Livestock may reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from semi-arid, cool temperate grasslands, not increase them, according to a paper published in Nature this week.

As with other greenhouse gases, levels of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere have increased since the industrial revolution. One of the suspected causes has been an increase in the number of livestock grazing on temperate grasslands. However, Klaus Butterbach-Bahl and colleagues have now taken a year’s worth of continuous measurements of nitrous oxide emissions in the steppe grassland of Inner Mongolia. They find that most of the annual nitrous oxide emitted is released during the spring thaw, but that the amount released declines the more animals there are grazing on the land. Any increase in nitrous oxide levels directly caused by livestock seems to be offset by the overall reduction in nitrogen cycling caused by grazing over the year.

This effect seems to stem from grazing altering the number of microbes in the soil and the soil–water balance, such that conditions become less favourable for nitrous oxide production. For instance, less snow accumulates in grazed grassland than in taller, ungrazed vegetation, and snow protects the soil and the microbial community living in it from harsh winter temperatures.

Author contact:
Klaus Butterbach-Bahl (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany)
Tel: +49 8821183136; E-mail: [email protected]

Stephen Del Grosso (US Department of Agriculture, Fort Collins, CO, USA)
N&V Author
Tel: +1 970 492 7281; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Developmental biology: How the fly got its spots (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08896

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 7 April 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 8 April, but at a later date.

The spotty fly Drosophila guttifera owes its polka dot wing pattern to a signalling protein called Wingless, a Nature study reveals. The study sheds light on how complex insect patterns develop and have evolved over time.

The protein is expressed in patches that foreshadow the adult wing spot pattern, Sean B. Carroll and colleagues show. Both the protein and spots appear superimposed on physical wing landmarks such as crossveins, suggesting that modern wing patterns are ‘painted’ onto ancient wing regulatory landscapes.

The elaborate 16-spot pattern probably evolved from simpler schemes when Wingless became co-opted at new sites in the developing wing, the team suggest. Furthermore, this layering of new patterns onto existing ones may well be a general theme found in other animals.

Author contact:
Sean B. Carroll (University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA)
Tel: +1 608 262 6191; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Tectonics: Stretching the deep crust (pp 885-889)

A seismological study in Nature provides evidence for the theory that the Earth’s lower crust in the western USA has been stretched in a ductile manner as it was pulled apart.

Observations of seismic anisotropy—where waves travel through rock at different speeds depending on direction—improve our understanding of deformation and flow patterns resulting from tectonic processes, but large-scale observations of lower crustal anisotropy have until now been limited to regions of thick crust. Morgan Moschetti and colleagues studied the crust of the western USA, known for its extensional tectonic setting and an area of relatively thin crust. Using a method of seismic wave imaging known as ‘ambient noise’ tomography, they have generated high-resolution images of seismic wave speeds in the crust and uppermost mantle.

The observations reveal strong and uniform anisotropy in the deep crust in the areas that have undergone significant extension during the last 65 million years. This supports the hypothesis that the deep crust has undergone widespread and relatively uniform ductile strain in response to crustal thinning and extension.

Author contact:
Morgan Moschetti (US Geological Survey, Denver, CO, USA)
Tel: +1 303 273 8464; E-mail: [email protected]

Opinion: How is the Global Green New Deal going? (pp 832-833)

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published its Global Green New Deal policy brief just over a year ago. Its proposal to save the planet at the same time as rescuing the economy is not going well enough, says environmental economist Edward Barbier, author of the recommendations behind the policy brief, in an Opinion article in Nature this week.

Although nations have spent more than US$463.3 billion on green stimulus during the recession, this encompasses just 15% of the total fiscal stimulus, and .7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the world’s 20 wealthiest and merging economies (the G20). Barbier has recommended a global expenditure of 1% GDP on green projects, from investments in alternative energy development to improvement of public transport or energy efficiencies.

A few nations have spent big: South Korea and China each allocated 3% of their GDP to green measures. The rest of the G20 should catch up, says Barbier. Putting more effort into green projects now could improve international competitiveness, and initiating policy measures such as carbon taxes would ease debts, he notes. He argues that the G20 must use its June summit meeting in Toronto, Canada, to set things on track.

Author contact:
Edward Barbier (University of Wyoming, Larmie, WY, USA)
Tel: +1 307 766 2178; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Semiconductors: A device for memory and logic (pp 873-876)

Memristive devices—which combine the electrical properties of a memory element and a resistor—can also perform logic operations. This finding, published this week in Nature, shows that memory and logic functions can in principle be performed by the same devices in a circuit, rather than requiring separate elements as at present.

A challenge in the semiconductor industry is to create integrated circuits that use new physical state variables—other than charge or voltage—to offer memory and logic functions. Memristive devices use resistance to uphold the memory function in this challenge. Stanley Williams and colleagues now show that these memory devices also perform logic functions when the memristive device is incorporated in an appropriate circuit.

Author contact:
Stanley Williams (Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, Palo Alto, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 857 6586; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Behaviour: Learning gets neurons to work together (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08897

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 7 April 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 8 April, but at a later date.

Imaging the brains of mice as they respond to sensory stimuli is proving to be an effective tool for understanding how neuronal circuits drive behaviour. Although it is generally accepted that specific cortical circuits drive behavioural execution, the relationship between task performance and modulation within the circuit is unknown.

In Nature this week, Karel Svoboda and colleagues show that as learning takes place and task performance improves, neurons within the circuit, and near to one another, show greater coincidental activity. This suggests that enhanced correlated activity in specific ensembles of neurons can identify and encode specific behavioural responses, while also providing direct evidence for rapid changes in cortical microcircuits underlying flexible behaviour.

Author contact:
Karel Svoboda (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA)
Tel: +1 571 209 4113; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] Biology: The shape of weight gain (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08921

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 7 April 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 8 April, but at a later date.

The structure of a gene associated with obesity is published in Nature this week.

The fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene sits on human chromosome 16 and has previously been associated with increased body weight. Mice engineered to lack the FTO protein are slim. In this paper, Jijie Chai and colleagues present the crystal structure of human FTO, and reveal an unprecedented mechanism for a protein to discriminate between single- and double-stranded DNA.

The data provide insights into the workings of FTO and a starting point for the development of therapeutic agents that counter obesity.

Author contact:
Jijie Chai (National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing, China)
Tel: +86 10 80726678; E-mail: [email protected]

[9] And finally… Following the leader? (pp 890-893)

Individual birds within flocks fly in positions that may represent their hierarchical position in the group reports a study in Nature this week. The work is the first to demonstrate clearly the organisation of movement within flocks of birds.

Data relating to long-distance group motion in birds is almost non-existent in natural settings due to the technical difficulties involved. Tamás Vicsek and colleagues use lightweight GPS devices to track the movements of homing pigeons in groups of around 10 to offer an insight into avian orientation strategies. They find a well-defined hierarchy among flock members. The team tracked a ‘leader’ by noting how long after a change in direction all the other birds followed and found that the spatial position in which a bird sits within the group correlates strongly with its place in the hierarchy. They confirm that birds located at the front of the pack are very likely to also be the ‘leader.’

They also note that the birds had a preference for left eye vision. This meant that birds positioned to the right are likely to be more inferior than bird to their left as they are using their left vision to follow movements.

The authors conclude that, in flocks that are large enough to allow pair-to-pair interactions, leader-follower relationships seem to occur consistently. They also note that this behaviour has the potential to be translated to bigger groups of birds and even different animals.

Author contact:
Tamás Vicsek (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary)
Tel: +36 1 372 2755; E-mail: [email protected]

**********************************************

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE…

[10] Quantum spin liquid emerging in two-dimensional correlated Dirac fermions (pp 847-851)

[11] Dislocation nucleation governed softening and maximum strength in nano-twinned metals (pp 877-880)

ADVANCE ONLINE PUBLICATION

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 7 April 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 8 April, but at a later date.

[12] Super-resolution biomolecular crystallography with low-resolution data

DOI: 10.1038/nature08892

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GEOGRAPHICAL LISTING OF AUTHORS

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.

CANADA
Ottawa: 6
Victoria: 1

CHINA
Beijing: 3, 8, 11
Shenyang: 11
Tianjin: 8
Zhengzhou: 8

FRANCE
Roscoff: 1

GERMANY
Garmisch-Partenkirchen: 3
Jülich: 12
Stuttgart: 10
Würzburg: 10

HUNGARY
Budapest: 9

UNITED KINGDOM
Oxford: 9
Penicuik: 3
St Andrews: 2

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Alabama
Tuscaloosa: 11

California
La Jolla: 7
Palo Alto: 6
Pasadena: 2
Stanford: 12

Colorado
Boulder: 5
Denver: 2, 5

Georgia
Atlanta: 2

Maryland
Baltimore: 7

Michigan
Ann Arbor: 2

New York
New York: 7

Ohio
Dayton: 4

Rhode Island
Providence: 11

Virginia
Ashburn: 7

Wisconsin
Madison: 4

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Published: 07 Apr 2010

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