Dawn of Peru's golden age of maize; Why Titan is such a gas; Somewhere beneath Yellowstone, the beast stirs ...; Nipping foot and mouth in the bud; Evolution: Sex begets sex;

Summaries of newsworthy papers from Nature. Vol.440 No.7080 Dated 2 March 2006

This press release is copyright Nature. VOL.440 NO.7080 DATED 2 MARCH 2006

This press release contains:
* Summaries of newsworthy papers:
* Archaeology: Dawn of Peru's golden age of maize
* Planetary science: Why Titan is such a gas
* Earth science: Somewhere beneath Yellowstone, the beast stirs ...
* Disease: Nipping foot and mouth in the bud
* Evolution: Sex begets sex
* Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same
* Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Archaeology: Dawn of Peru's golden age of maize (pp 76-79)

Despite the importance of the Andes as a cradle of civilization for cultures
up to and including the Incas, little is known about one of the cornerstones
of their development - the adoption of agriculture. But now, archaeologists
excavating a 4,000-year-old Peruvian house have found the earliest evidence
of the growing and processing of maize.

Linda Perry and colleagues found microscopic remains of three crop plants -
maize, potato and arrowroot - in an ancient dwelling uncovered at Waynuna,
high on the slopes of the Cerro Aycano peak above Peru's Cotahuasi Valley.
As they report in this week's Nature, they found tiny granules of starch and
other plant remains both on the floor of the hut, which dates to between
3,600 and 4,000 years old, and on stone tools found inside.

The discovery pushes back the earliest known use of maize as a foodstuff in
this region by at least 1,000 years, the authors write. What's more, because
arrowroot probably could not be grown in high-altitude regions such as
Waynuna, it was probably brought there from farther afield, perhaps
therefore representing the early use of agricultural goods as a bartering

Linda Perry (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA)
Tel: +1 301 238 1023; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Planetary science: Why Titan is such a gas (pp 61-64)

Titan's methane supply may be locked away in a kind of methane-rich ice,
according to research in this week's Nature. Gabriel Tobie and colleagues
suggest that the ice, called a clathrate hydrate, forms a crust above an
ocean of liquid water mixed with ammonia.

Saturn's moon Titan was revealed last year to have spectacular landscapes
apparently carved by liquids and has an atmosphere rich in methane. The
Cassini mission also showed that there is not after all a lot of liquid
methane now on the moon's surface, and so it isn't clear where the
atmospheric gas comes from. As it is broken down by light-induced chemical
reactions over a timescale of tens of millions of years, it can't just be a
remnant of the atmosphere present when Titan itself was formed, but must be
replenished quite regularly.

The team say that parts of the clathrate crust might be warmed from time to
time by volcanic activity on the moon, causing it to release its methane
into the atmosphere. These outbursts could produce temporary flows of liquid
methane on the surface, accounting for the river-like features seen on
Titan's surface.

If they are right, say the researchers, then future missions to Titan should
be able to detect the existence of their putative subsurface ocean of a
liquid water-ammonia mixture.

Gabriel Tobie (University Of Nantes, Nantes, France)
Tel: +33 1 5112 5467; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Earth science: Somewhere beneath Yellowstone, the beast stirs ... (pp

Unusual deformations around the rim of an enormous volcano were created by
the flow of molten basalt beneath, scientists report in this week's Nature. Yellowstone National Park in the western United States is home to one of the
largest volcanoes on Earth, which formed through a giant eruption about
640,000 years ago, ejecting around 1,000 cubic kilometres of material in the

Charles Wicks and colleagues have used radar data from the European Space
Agency's ERS-2 satellite to identify an unusual feature in the caldera of
the volcano. They saw that since 1995, part of the northern rim of the
caldera has lifted up, while the caldera floor has subsided. The scientists
suggest that the change was caused by the movement of molten basalt in
Yellowstone's volcanic system, and could be related to an increase in
geothermal activity in the area.

Charles Wicks (US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 329 4874; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Disease: Nipping foot and mouth in the bud (pp 83-86)

What's the best way of using a vaccine to contain a foot and mouth disease
(FMD) epidemic given logistical constraints and a limited supply? Ignore the
order in which infections are reported and instead vaccinate those farms
closest to any previously reported cases, according to new research
published in Nature.

Matt Keeling and colleagues used data collected during the UK's 2001 FMD
outbreak to construct an epidemiological model to work out the most
efficient way of deploying vaccine stocks to restrict an outbreak by 'ring'

They conclude reactive vaccination is a powerful tool for combating FMD, and
potentially other locally transmitted pathogens, when combined with
efficient culling and animal movement restrictions. A strategy that
prioritised vaccination on the basis of the shortest distance to any
reported infection worked best over traditional fixed-radius policies. This
negates the need to determine an optimal ring size.

Vaccination was not deployed during the 2001 FMD epidemic. The 2004 FMD
contingency plan from the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural
Affairs considers reactive vaccination to be the preferred means of control
but does not suggest a specific design for such programmes.

Matt Keeling (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Tel: +44 24 7652 4618; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Evolution: Sex begets sex (pp 87-90)

The question of why sexual reproduction evolved has long taxed biologists.
In this week's Nature, researchers propose that sexual reproduction actually
selects for conditions that favour its own maintenance - a case of evolution
forging its own path.

One possible advantage of sex is that it may help rid the genome of harmful
mutations. When, as a result of sexual reproduction, organisms shuffle their
genes, harmful mutations can be brought together in the same genome, making them more susceptible to the cleansing action of natural selection. But for this to work, mutations must be more harmful when combined in the same
genome than when separated - a phenomenon known as 'negative epistasis'.
Ricardo Azevedo and colleagues use a computer model to show that
recombination between genetic networks could favour the evolution of very
robust genomes. It seems that the evolution of negative epistasis is a
by-product of this process, further reinforcing the genetic benefits of
sexual recombination. This would help to explain why sexual reproduction is
so common in species despite its inherent costs, such as that of searching
for mates.

Ricardo Azevedo (University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA)
Tel: +1 713 743 4149; E-mail: [email protected]


[8] Introns and the origin of nucleus-cytosol compartmentalization (pp

[9] Optimal isotope labelling for NMR protein structure determinations
(pp 52-57)

[10] A magnetically collimated jet from an evolved star (pp 58-60)

[11] Hidden magnetism and quantum criticality in the heavy fermion
superconductor CeRhIn5
(pp 65-68)

[12] Mitoferrin is essential for erythroid iron assimilation (pp 96-100)

[13] How guanylate-binding proteins achieve assemblystimulated processive
cleavage of GTP to GMP (pp 101-104)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 1
March 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 2 March, but at a later date.***

[14] A genome-wide Drosophila RNAi screen identifies DYRK-family kinases
as regulators of NFAT


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.

Townsville: 7

Burnaby: 12

Gif-sur-Yvette: 13
Nantes: 2

Bochum: 13
Cologne: 13
Dortmund: 13
Dusseldorf: 8

Cibinong: 3
Bandung: 3

Rome: 2

Hachioji: 9
Kagoshima: 10
Yokohama: 9

Balboa: 1

Arequipa: 1
Moquegua: 1

Malta: 12

Zurich: 12

Cambridge: 5
Coventry: 5
Edinburgh: 5
Macclesfield: 10
Roslin: 5

Tucson: 2
La Jolla: 3
Menlo Park: 4
Pasadena: 3
San Diego: 12
District of Columbia
Washington DC: 1
Urbana: 11
Orono: 1
Bethesda: 5, 8
Beverly: 14
Boston: 12, 14
Cambridge: 14
New Mexico
Los Alamos: 11
New York
Buffalo: 12
Ithaca: 1
Troy: 3
New York: 13
North Carolina
Chapel Hill: 6
Columbus: 12
Philadelphia: 12
University Park: 5
Houston: 6
Salt Lake City: 12
Seattle: 14
Vancouver: 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
Rinoko Asami, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail: [email protected]

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Ruth Francis, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail [email protected]

Zoe Corbyn, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail: [email protected]

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Published: 02 Mar 2006

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