Prediciting volcanic eruptions and bringing elephants to Australia

Latest news from Nature 2 February 2012

This press release contains:

---Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Geophysics: Can supervolcano eruptions be predicted?

Comment: Bring elephants to Australia?

Comment: The toxic truth about sugar

Immunology: How changes in gut flora affect liver disease

Quantum physics: Quantum error correction

Physics: New lasers extend ultrahigh precision spectroscopy

And finally... Adapting to pressure

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

---Geographical listing of authors

Editorial contacts: While the best contacts for stories will always be the authors themselves, in some cases the Nature editor who handled the paper will be available for comment if an author is unobtainable. Editors are contactable via Ruth Francis on +44 20 7843 4562. Feel free to get in touch with Nature's press contacts in London, Washington and Tokyo (as listed at the end of this release) with any general editorial inquiry.

Warning: This document, and the Nature papers to which it refers, may contain information that is price sensitive (as legally defined, for example, in the UK Criminal Justice Act 1993 Part V) with respect to publicly quoted companies. Anyone dealing in securities using information contained in this document or in advanced copies of Nature’s content may be guilty of insider trading under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

PICTURES: While we are happy for images from Nature to be reproduced for the purposes of contemporaneous news reporting, you must also seek permission from the copyright holder (if named) or author of the research paper in question (if not).

HYPE: We take great care not to hype the papers mentioned on our press releases, but are sometimes accused of doing so. If you ever consider that a story has been hyped, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected], citing the specific example.


[1] Geophysics: Can supervolcano eruptions be predicted? (pp 77-80; N&V)

A study of pre-eruptive magmatic processes and their timescales in caldera volcano systems published in Nature this week may improve our understanding of the events that precede supervolcano eruptions. The work has implications for monitoring strategies at long-dormant, but potentially active, caldera systems.

Timothy Druitt and colleagues present a study of crystals in volcanic rocks, which provide records of magma-reservoir processes and timescales prior to eruptions, from Santorini in Greece. Around 40–60 cubic kilometres of lava spewed from the late 1600s bc caldera-forming volcanic eruption of Santorini that occurred 18,000 years after the previous major eruption. Despite the long timescale between eruptions, the authors discover that large changes in magma composition can occur on very short timescales prior to large eruptions. The crystal record indicates that the magma reservoir recharged within 100 years prior to eruption and that magma mixing was still taking place during the final months.

Known dormant, but potentially active, caldera systems include Long Valley and Yellowstone in the USA, and Campi Flegrei in Italy. These systems are capable of erupting tens to thousands of cubic kilometres of magma explosively on timescales of hours to days. The observations made by Druitt and co-workers suggest that long-term monitoring of such calderas may detect any changes in magma reservoirs to predict forthcoming, potentially devastating eruptions.

Timothy Druitt (Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, France)
Tel: +33 4 73 34 67 18; E-mail: [email protected]

Jon Blundy (University of Bristol, UK) N&V author
Tel: +44 117 954 5447; E-mail: [email protected]


Comment: Bring elephants to Australia? (p. 30)

There is a potential, albeit radical, solution to Australia’s out-of-control fires and feral-animal populations, says David Bowman in a Comment in this week’s Nature: introduce large mammals and increase hunting pressure.

7 February marks the three-year anniversary of ‘Black Saturday’, when nearly 200 people died in a massive firestorm in southern Australia. Fires are a constant concern in Australia, says Bowman, but so are its thriving populations of feral pigs, camels, horses and cattle, among others.

Bowman is proposing a more holistic approach to managing Australia’s troubled ecosystem: introduce large mammals such as elephants, rhinoceros and even Komodo dragons to help consume flammable grasses and control feral-animal populations. At the same time, he recommends employing Aboriginal hunters who could help to control feral-animal populations and restore the traditional practice of patch burning. “I realize that there are major risks associated with what I am proposing,” says Bowman. “But the usual approaches to managing these issues aren’t working.”

David Bowman (University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)
Tel: +61 3 6492 1048 or: +61 4 2889 4500; E-mail: [email protected]
Please note this author is travelling. E-mail is the best contact for him but he will have some telephone access between 28 and 31 January.


Comment: The toxic truth about sugar (pp 27-29)

Sugar is as toxic to health as alcohol, and should therefore be regulated, argue Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis in a Comment piece in this week’s Nature.

Non-infectious diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, now pose a greater health burden worldwide than infectious diseases. A primary culprit behind many of the major killers is sugar. In the past, when society has been faced with health threats such as tobacco or alcohol, it has regulated them ― and it is time to do the same with sugar, say Lustig and his co-authors. Regulation could include taxing sugary products so that the cost doubles, reducing the number of places that such food can be bought, and designating an age limit (such as 17) for the purchase of drinks with added sugar.

“We recognize that societal intervention to reduce the supply and demand for sugar faces an uphill political battle against a powerful sugar lobby, and will require active engagement from all stakeholders,” the authors write. But tectonic shifts in policy are possible, they add ― such as bans on public smoking, and the introduction of condom dispensers in public bathrooms. “These simple measures — which have all been on the battleground of American politics — are now taken for granted as essential tools for our public health and wellbeing. It’s time to turn our attention to sugar.”

Robert Lustig (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 415 502 8672; E-mail:[email protected]

Juliana Bunim (UCSF public affairs office)
Tel: +1 415 502 6397; E-mail: [email protected]


[2] Immunology: How changes in gut flora affect liver disease (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10809

Factors that regulate the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the leading cause of chronic liver disease in the Western world, are described in Nature this week. Pro-inflammatory protein complexes called inflammasomes are linked to a shift in the intestinal microbiota that is shown to enhance disease in mice with diet-induced non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome.

Twenty per cent of individuals with NAFLD develop chronic hepatic inflammation, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which often leads to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. However, causes of progression from NAFLD to NASH remain obscure, resulting in lack of effective treatment for this disorder. Richard Flavell and co-workers use a mouse model to study the inflammatory processes associated with progression from NAFLD to NASH. They uncover the role of the NLRP6 and NLRP3 inflammasomes in NAFLD progression through the regulation of the normal composition of the intestinal microflora.

NAFLD is a manifestation of metabolic syndrome — a group of risk factors that raises the likelihood of developing health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Flavell and colleagues suggest that alterations in gut microbiota caused by defective NLRP3 and NLRP6 inflammasome activity may affect the rate of progression of multiple metabolic syndrome-associated abnormalities. Thus, these findings highlight the pivotal role of the microbiota in the development of auto-inflammatory and metabolic disorders.

Richard Flavell (Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA)
Tel: +1 203 737 2216; E-mail: [email protected]


[3] Quantum physics: Quantum error correction (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10786

A device that demonstrates three-qubit quantum error correction using superconducting circuits is described in Nature this week. The work establishes the conceptual components of a more complex device that could correct arbitrary single-qubit errors, an important requirement for scalable quantum technology.

Quantum computers have the potential to solve certain problems far quicker than is possible with classical computers, but are much more susceptible to errors. Such errors can be detected and corrected without affecting computational capability by using quantum error correcting codes, the simplest of which are three-qubit codes.

Matthew Reed and colleagues demonstrate three-qubit quantum error correction in superconducting circuits using a device called a three-qubit gate. They suggest that implementation of this error-correcting device together with recent advances in superconducting qubit coherence times could provide a basis for scalable quantum technology.

Matthew Reed (Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA)
Tel: +1 206 491 2327; E-mail: [email protected]


[4] Physics: New lasers extend ultrahigh precision spectroscopy (pp 68-71; N&V)

A new approach for ultrahigh precision spectroscopy is demonstrated in this week’s Nature. The method improves the capability of an existing type of laser — the optical frequency comb. Potential applications include improving the precision of nuclear clocks and searches for variations in fundamental physical constants.

Optical frequency combs are lasers that emit a series of evenly spaced wavelengths. They have assisted developments in precision spectroscopy and various measurements, such as for atomic clocks. Efforts to extend this capability to shorter wavelengths (in the extreme ultraviolet spectrum) have lacked sufficient power for applications until now. Jun Ye and colleagues use femtosecond optical cavities to enhance the power of an infrared laser to produce an extreme ultraviolet comb. They demonstrate its spectroscopic potential by measuring atomic transitions in neon and argon with ultrahigh precision.

Jun Ye (University of Colorado and National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, CO, USA)
Tel: +1 303 735 3171; E-mail: [email protected]

Linda Young (Argonne National Laboratory, IL, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 630 252 8878; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] And finally... Adapting to pressure (pp 72-76)

How do the mechanical properties of spider silk affect its function in a web? Research in Nature this week suggests that the performance of silk changes according to how much stress is applied.

Spider silk is an illustration of exquisite design optimizing function to meet a spider’s many needs. Markus Buehler and colleagues explored how its mechanical properties contribute to the integrity and performance of a web. They find that it adapts to the amount of stress and how the stress load is distributed. Under a light stress such as wind, silk softens and extends, allowing the web to retain its structure. When a larger stress is applied locally, the silk threads first extend and then only the most extended threads become rigid and rupture. This localizes the damage, enabling the rest of the web to remain functional. The superior performance of silk in webs is not due to strength alone, but to the material’s ability to change its response to increasingly higher strain.

Markus Buehler (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 452 2750 or: +1 626 628 4087; E-mail: [email protected]



[6] Quantum-coherent coupling of a mechanical oscillator to an optical cavity mode (pp 63-67)

[7] Serial translocation by means of circular intermediates underlies colour sidedness in cattle (pp 81-84)


*** This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 01 February 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 02 February, but at a later date. ***

[8] Enhancer decommissioning by LSD1 during differentiation of embryonic stem cells
DOI: 10.1038/nature10805



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: 7

Liège: 7

Nan Chang: 7

Brno: 7

Clermont-Ferrand: 1
Evry: 7
Orleans: 1
Paris: 7
Vandoeuvre les Nancy: 1

Garching: 6
Munich: 8

Torino: 5

Örnsro: 7

Bern: 7
Geneva: 1
Lausanne: 6
Zollikofen: 7

Aleppo: 7

Amsterdam: 4
Delft: 3
Wageningen: 7

Leicester: 8

La Jolla: 2
Boulder: 4
New Haven: 2, 3
Chevy Chase: 2
Cambridge: 5, 8
Ann Arbor: 4
St Louis: 2
New York
Ithaca: 5



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]


About Nature Publishing Group (NPG):

Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is a publisher of high impact scientific and medical information in print and online. NPG publishes journals, online databases and services across the life, physical, chemical and applied sciences and clinical medicine.

Focusing on the needs of scientists, Nature (founded in 1869) is the leading weekly, international scientific journal. In addition, for this audience, NPG publishes a range of Nature research journals and Nature Reviews journals, plus a range of prestigious academic journals including society-owned publications. Online, provides over 5 million visitors per month with access to NPG publications and online databases and services, including Nature News and NatureJobs plus access to Nature Network and Nature Education’s

Scientific American is at the heart of NPG’s newly-formed consumer media division, meeting the needs of the general public. Founded in 1845, Scientific American is the oldest continuously published magazine in the US and the leading authoritative publication for science in the general media. Together with and 15 local language editions around the world it reaches over 3 million consumers and scientists. Other titles include Scientific American Mind and Spektrum der Wissenschaft in Germany.

Throughout all its businesses NPG is dedicated to serving the scientific and medical communities and the wider scientifically interested general public. Part of Macmillan Publishers Limited, NPG is a global company with principal offices in London, New York and Tokyo, and offices in cities worldwide including Boston, Buenos Aires, Delhi, Hong Kong, Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Heidelberg, Basingstoke, Melbourne, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul and Washington DC. For more information, please go to

Published: 02 Feb 2012

Contact details:

The Macmillan Building, 4 Crinan Street
N1 9XW
United Kingdom

+44 20 7833 4000
News topics: 
Content type: