The flip side of flipper banding

Summaries of newsworthy papers - Astronomy: Clustering galaxies seen in the very early Universe; Comment: Counting the cost of corruption in earthquake zones; Neuroscience: Modelled tinnitus treatment rings true; Quantum physics: Entangled light stored in crystals; And finally... Teething trouble .


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.469 NO.7329 DATED 13 JANUARY 2011

This press release contains:

•Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Biology: The flip side of flipper banding

Astronomy: Clustering galaxies seen in the very early Universe

Comment: Counting the cost of corruption in earthquake zones

Neuroscience: Modelled tinnitus treatment rings true

Astronomy: Early galaxy numbers affected by gravitational lensing

Quantum physics: Entangled light stored in crystals

Materials: Advancing oxide electronics

Structural biology: Turning on a G-protein-coupled receptor

And finally... Teething trouble

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

•Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Biology: The flip side of flipper banding (pp 203-206; N&V)

Tagging wild penguins with flipper bands impairs their long-term survival and reproduction, a ten-year study of king penguins living on Antarctica’s Possession Island now suggests. The Nature paper, which highlights ethical objections to the continued use of flipper-banding, also partially discredits the predictive value of data derived from banded birds.

Yvon Le Maho and colleagues studied 50 flipper-banded and 50 non-banded free-roaming king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus). Over the decade, flipper-banded penguins produced 39% fewer chicks and had a 16% lower survival, compared with non-banded birds.

Flipper bands are used for identification purposes, but although some studies find them harmless, others caution that tags can cause physical damage and drag. This long-term study refutes the assumption that penguins adapt to the bands. Moreover, it suggests that flipper-banded and non-banded penguins respond differently to climate, with banded birds arriving later on the island to breed.

Penguins are often viewed as bellwethers for climate change, and many published studies use data collected from banded birds to help predict population dynamics. But such research suffers from an inherent bias, the authors caution. Our understanding of the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems based on flipper-band data should thus be reconsidered.


Yvon Le Maho (CNRS and University of Strasbourg, France)

Tel: +33 3 88 10 69 33 or tel: +33 6 12 92 94 28; E-mail:
[email protected]

Claire Saraux (CNRS and University of Strasbourg, France) Co-author

Tel: +33 3 88 10 69 31; E-mail: [email protected]

Rory Wilson (Swansea University, UK) N&V author

Tel: +44 1792 295376; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Astronomy: Clustering galaxies seen in the very early Universe (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature09681

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 12 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 it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 13 January, but at a later date.

A massive ‘protocluster’ of galaxies, dating from only a billion years after the Big Bang, is reported online in Nature this week. Its properties are in agreement with cosmological simulations of galaxy formation, in which massive galaxy clusters form from early overdensities of massive galaxies, as part of a hierarchical merging process.

The overdense protocluster regions that are thought to coalesce to form today’s galaxy clusters are expected to contain extremely massive galaxies, observable as luminous quasars or starbursts. But observational evidence for this picture is sparse, because early (high-redshift) protoclusters are rare and difficult to observe.

Peter Capak and colleagues searched for starbursts, quasars and massive galaxies at high redshift, using data collected at multiple wavelengths across a large area of the sky. At redshift 5.3, corresponding to only ~1 billion years after the Big Bang, the authors found an extreme starburst galaxy, surrounded by several other luminous galaxies, including a quasar. These objects occupy an overdense region more than 40 million light years in size, rich in molecular gas and young stars. The mass, size and other properties of the overdense region match the predictions of galaxy formation simulations. The authors conclude that they are seeing the progenitor of a massive galaxy cluster typical of those seen at lower redshift.


Peter Capak (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA)

Tel: +1 626 395 6422; E-mail: [email protected]

Comment: Counting the cost of corruption in earthquake zones (pp 153-155)

In a Nature Comment piece published on the anniversary of Haiti’s devastating quake, Nicholas Ambraseys and Roger Bilham calculate that about 83% of all deaths from building collapse in earthquakes over the past 30 years occurred in countries that are more corrupt than one would expect from their per capita income. The analysis offers statistical support for a widespread anecdotal evidence of such a correlation.

Bilham and Ambraseys went back to original sources to compile a new catalogue of recent earthquake fatalities. They compared this with gross national income per capita and with Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The striking relationship that they found does not uniquely distinguish between the relative contributions of poverty and corruption to earthquake fatalities, the authors write, but it suggests that “where corruption is extreme, its effects are manifest in the building industry”.

The wealthiest of nations afflicted by earthquakes can afford both to educate their populations, and to purchase high-quality building materials. So it is likely that the toll from earthquakes in outliers Italy, Greece and Russia can be attributed to the effects of corruption, the authors argue. In contrast, Chile and New Zealand are less corrupt than might be expected from their per capita income, and have fewer earthquake deaths. Haiti and Iran are extreme examples of nations where fatalities from quakes seem to be excessive and where levels of corruption are above average.


Roger Bilham (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA)

Tel: +1 303 492 6189 or tel: +1 303 408 9125; E-mail:
[email protected]

[3] Neuroscience: Modelled tinnitus treatment rings true (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature09656

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 12 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 it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 13 January, but at a later date.

Reversing the neuronal plasticity responsible for tinnitus could correct perceptual impairments caused by the ailment, reports a study in rodents published in Nature.

Neuronal plasticity is thought to be the source of several chronic neurological conditions, including tinnitus. Using a rat model of noise-induced tinnitus, Navzer Engineer and colleagues repeatedly paired tones with brief pulses of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), to sharpen the tuning of auditory neurons. The authors found that in noise-exposed rats, VNS eliminated the physiological and behavioural correlates of tinnitus. These improvements lasted for several weeks after the end of the therapy.

This proof-of-principle study indicates that reversing changes in the brain that result from pathological neural activity could be beneficial in ailments that involve aberrant neural plasticity. However, further research would be needed to establish whether the treatment is effective in human patients.


Navzer Engineer (University of Texas, Dallas, TX, USA)

Tel: +1 214 578 6463; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Astronomy: Early galaxy numbers affected by gravitational lensing (pp 181-184)

Attempts to understand the earliest galaxies will have to account for a significant observational bias, according to a paper in this week’s Nature. Stuart Wyithe and colleagues report that gravitational lensing by intervening galaxies is likely to dominate the observed properties of galaxies with redshifts greater than ~12, leading to a distorted view of their luminosities and star-forming activity.

The observed numbers of high-redshift galaxies and their luminosities have been used to build a statistical picture of star-forming activity in the early Universe. The light from these distant galaxies can be magnified by foreground galaxies — a ‘gravitational lensing’ effect that can distort measurements of the distant galaxies. Although the likelihood of this happening has been estimated at only ~0.5%, observational biases can increase the size of the effect. In particular, at very high redshifts, where most of the galaxies are too faint to be seen, an effect called ‘magnification bias’ can increase the fraction of gravitationally lensed galaxies in a galaxy sample.

Wyithe and colleagues assess the magnitude of this magnification bias, and conclude that, at redshifts ≥12, the galaxy number counts could be modified by as much as a factor of ten, with most of the observed galaxies being lensed. The authors conclude that the results of future galaxy surveys will need to be corrected for this bias, if accurate conclusions are to be drawn regarding star formation in the earliest galaxies.


Stuart Wyithe (University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia)

Tel: +61 3 8344 5083; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] & [6] Quantum physics: Entangled light stored in crystals (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature09662
DOI: 10.1038/nature09719

This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 12 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 it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 13 January, but at a later date.

An important step towards quantum information technologies based on solid-state devices is reported in two papers published online in Nature this week. Two groups have developed solid-state quantum memories that can store, and then re-emit, one member of an entangled pair of photons, while preserving the entangled state.

Entangled states are a key resource for quantum information processing; in particular, entangled photons are ideal ‘flying quantum bits’, which can carry quantum information between material subsystems. In a fully realized quantum network, quantum states will need to be mapped reversibly between light and matter, with material nodes holding quantum information until it is needed. Such a reversible transfer, requiring entanglement between light and matter, is also needed for quantum ‘repeaters’ — which will be used to overcome signal loss in transmitting quantum information over long distances.

Both groups writing in Nature report the mapping of photonic entanglement into and out of a quantum memory made from a crystal doped with a rare-earth ion. Mikael Afzelius and colleagues use an yttrium silicate crystal doped with neodymium, whereas Wolfgang Tittel and colleagues use thulium-doped lithium niobate. In each case, the quantum state of one member of an entangled pair of photons is stored as a collective atomic excitation in the crystal, and then retrieved — retaining its entanglement with the other member of the pair. The results pave the way for long-distance quantum networks, and suggest that entanglement is not as fragile a property as is often believed.


Mikael Afzelius (University of Geneva, Switzerland) Author paper [5]

Tel: +41 223 796 841; E-mail: [email protected]

Wolfgang Tittel (University of Calgary, Canada) Author paper [6]

Tel: +1 403 220 4760; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Materials: Advancing oxide electronics (pp189-193; N&V)

A study in Nature this week gives new insights into the electronic band structure of an exotic two-dimensional electron gas (2DEG). The work provides a model system for the study of such electron gases and a new route to generating them at the surfaces of transition-metal oxides.

At surfaces or interfaces of materials, electronic states can form that have novel properties, different from those in the bulk. Tailoring such properties in thin film oxide devices has led to a new field of research where the material strontium titanate (SrTiO3 ) takes a central role.

Santander-Syro and colleagues use angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy, and obtain new insights into the electronic band structure of the 2DEG for SrTiO3 . Their findings shed light on previous observations of SrTiO3 -based heterostructures and suggest that different forms of electron confinement at the surface of SrTiO3 lead to essentially the same 2DEG.


Andres Santander-Syro (Université Paris-Sud and CNRS, Orsay, France)

Tel: +33 6 7690 0748; E-mail: [email protected]

Elbio Dagotto (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA) N&V author

Tel: +1 865 974 2122; E-mail: [email protected]

[8], [9] & [10] Structural biology: Turning on a G-protein-coupled receptor (pp 175-180 and pp 236-244; N&V)

G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are membrane proteins that modulate a broad range of biological functions in response to an extracellular ‘agonist’. Several new structures of the human beta_2 adrenergic receptor and the turkey beta_1 adrenergic receptor are revealed in this week's Nature, shedding light on how agonists bind to and activate this family of GPCRs.

A pair of papers from Brian Kobilka and colleagues, and a third paper by Christopher Tate and his team, describe X-ray crystal structures of the GPCRs bound to various agonists. Comparisons with the previously published structure of the beta_2 adrenergic receptor in an ‘inactive’ state reveal the conformational changes that occur when an agonist binds the receptors, and the new structures indicate that binding events at both the extracellular and intracellular surfaces are required to stabilize the ‘active’ conformation of the receptor.

Drugs that either activate or inhibit beta-adrenergic receptors are being used to treat asthma, hypertension and cardiac dysfunction, so it is hoped that these structures could be used to help design new classes of drugs for these diseases.


Brian Kobilka (Stanford University, CA, USA) Author papers [8] & [9]

Tel: +1 650 723 7069; E-mail: [email protected]

Christopher Tate (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK)
Author paper [10]

Tel: +44 1223 402338; E-mail: [email protected]

Stephen Sprang (University of Montana, Missuola, MT, USA) N&V author

Tel: +1 406 243 6028; E-mail: [email protected]

[11] And finally... Teething trouble (pp 194-197)

An imaging technique sensitive enough to be used at the atomic scale has been used for the first time to create three-dimensional maps of a complex biomineralized tissue, according to a paper in Nature. The research will help scientists understand the structure of hybrid organic–inorganic materials such as teeth and bone, and allow them to design new materials with similar strength and flexibility.

The teeth of chitons — a class of marine molluscs — are built up from a mixture of organic and inorganic phases, and exhibit outstanding wear resistance and fracture toughness. These properties are intimately related to the internal organic–inorganic interfaces of the tooth material, although imaging these complex internal structures at the nanometre scale has proved challenging.

Lyle Gordon and Derk Joester now show that atom-probe tomography (ATP) — a technique that involves imaging in slices through sections of a material — can be used to determine the intricate nanoscale structure of a chiton tooth. The high-resolution, three-dimensional chemical maps created reveal individual organic fibres within the tooth that have different compositions, and therefore probably different functional roles in controlling the interactions between the organic matrix and inorganic mineral phases.

They suggest that APT will revolutionize our understanding of composite substances, and help in the design of next-generation bio-inspired materials for medicine, electronics and energy saving.


Derk Joester (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA)

Tel: +1 847 491 7443; E-mail: [email protected]


[12] Local charge of the n= 5/2 fractional quantum Hall state (pp 185-188)

[13] Contrasting crustal production and rapid mantle transitions beneath back-arc ridges (pp 198-202; N&V)


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: 7
San Martín: 7

Parkville: 4

Brussels: 8

Calgary: 6

Beijing: 4, 7

Copenhagen: 8

Arles: 1
Gif-sur-Yvette: 7
Orsay: 7
Palaiseau: 7
Paris: 1, 7
St-Martin-d’Hères: 2
Strasbourg: 1

Erlangen: 9
Garching: 2
Heidelberg: 2
Ingelheim: 8
Paderborn: 6
Würzberg: 7

Dublin: 9
Limerick: 9

His: 1
Oslo: 1
Tromsø: 1

Barcelona: 5
Bellaterra: 7

Geneva: 5, 6
Villigen: 10

Cambridge: 10
Manchester: 4
Nottingham: 10


Tempe: 4

Pasadena: 2
Riverside: 2
Stanford: 8, 9

Honolulu: 13

Evanston: 11

Ames: 7


Amherst: 2
Cambridge: 2, 12

Ann Arbor: 8, 9

New Jersey
Princeton: 12

New Mexico
Socorro: 2

New York
New York: 9

Columbus: 4

Austin: 3
Dallas: 9
Richardson: 3

Madison: 8, 9


From North America and Canada

Neda Afsarmanesh, Nature New York

Tel: +1 212 726 9231; 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

Rebecca Walton, Nature, London

Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail: [email protected]

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Published: 12 Jan 2011

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