Gorilla genome sequenced

Latest news from Nature 8 March 2012

This press release contains:

---Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Genomics: Gorilla genome sequenced

Physics: Measuring up to the challenge of antimatter spectroscopy

Comment: Lessons from the Fukushima disaster

Physics: Revisiting the photoelectric effect

Geology: A ‘rusty sink’ for organic carbon

Physics: Validation of Landauer's principle

And finally... Imaging ultrafast, atomic-scale structural changes

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

---Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Genomics: Gorilla genome sequenced (pp 169-175; N&V)

The genome sequence of the western lowland gorilla is reported in Nature this week, representing the last great ape genus for which a genome has been sequenced.

Gorillas are the closest living relatives of humans after chimpanzees and are of considerable importance in the understanding of human evolution. Richard Durbin and colleagues sequenced the genome of a female western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) named Kamilah, as well as collecting less extensive sequence data for other gorillas representing both the western lowland and eastern lowland sub-species. They also conducted comparative analysis with the whole genomes of the other extant great ape genera, including humans and chimpanzees.

The data imply that in 30% of the genome, the gorilla is closer to humans and chimpanzees than the latter are to each other. The study also reveals around 500 genes that show accelerated evolution in gorilla, human and chimpanzee lineages and evidence for parallel acceleration, especially in genes involved in hearing. Based on genetic and fossil evidence, the authors suggest that the human-chimpanzee and human-chimpanzee-gorilla speciation events occurred at around 6 and 10 million years ago respectively, whereas the western and eastern gorilla species diverged around 1.75 million years ago.

The study highlights another reason for conserving gorillas — as humans are more gorilla-like than previously thought, at least in 30% of the genome, studying their biology and society could also tell us more about our own origins.

Richard Durbin (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK)
Tel: +44 1223 834244; E-mail: [email protected]

Richard Gibbs (Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 713 798 6539; E-mail: [email protected]


[2] Physics: Measuring up to the challenge of antimatter spectroscopy (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10942

The first step towards spectroscopic measurements of antihydrogen is presented in Nature this week. These measurements were made at the Antiproton Decelerator at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. With the capture and confinement of cold antihydrogen atoms only having been achieved in the past two years, this work is part of ongoing efforts to study antihydrogen atoms.

The hydrogen atom is one of the most important and influential model systems in modern physics. It is hoped that clarifying the relationship between the spectra of hydrogen and antihydrogen will be of use in testing the Standard Model of particle physics. In a proof-of-principle experiment, Jeffrey Hangst and his colleagues in the ALPHA collaboration take a step towards making a precision comparison of the spectra of atomic matter and antimatter. They trap antihydrogen atoms and observe interactions with resonant microwave radiation.

As the aim of the present study was simply to test the feasibility of such measurements, the researchers have not yet attempted to accurately determine a spectroscopic lineshape for antihydrogen. However, they suggest that future experiments may allow precision spectroscopic measurements of antimatter to be made.

Jeffrey Hangst (Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)
Tel: +41 76 487 4589; E-mail: [email protected]


Comment: Lessons from the Fukushima disaster (pp 147–152)

Megaquakes such as the one that struck Japan a year ago this week continue to catch seismologists by surprise. In a Nature Comment piece, Thorne Lay tracks the recent spate of giant earthquakes and argues that we must prepare for the possibility of larger earthquakes in regions where we thought they couldn't strike. The article is part of a special issue of Nature, which examines how the lessons learned over the past year can help to prepare societies for future natural disasters.

Predicting earthquakes remains elusive, but earthquake and tsunami early-warning systems are increasingly important. They could be improved simply by better use of the technology that is available today, argues Hiroo Kanamori in a second Comment piece. Good warnings require access to high-quality data as well as a data-crunching method that can work out the magnitude and faulting mechanism. The Japanese Meteorological Agency has good data, but has not yet implemented the best methodology, says Kanamori. The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) of the US Geological Survey, by contrast, has good methodology but not the best data: although Japan is covered with hundreds of suitable seismographs, the data from only a handful are made available to the NEIC in real time. Both systems should be improved, Kanamori says.

Meanwhile, the tragedy has triggered many nations to rethink their policies on nuclear energy, says Peter Bradford. Only two of Japan’s 54 reactors are now operating, and the others might not be brought back into service; Germany, Belgium and Switzerland have announced plans to close their existing reactors; and the United States has grown warier of the technology. Previous reactor accidents, such as Chernobyl, saw many nations phasing out nuclear; they later reconsidered as concerns over climate change shifted the political balance back. What might be more definitive in the case against nuclear is the economics, argues Bradford. "The most implacable enemy of nuclear power in the past 30 years has been the risk not to public health, but to investors’ wallets," he says.


Thorne Lay (University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 831 459 3164; E-mail: [email protected]

Hiroo Kanamori (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 626 395 6914; E-mail: [email protected]

Peter Bradford (Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT, USA)
E-mail: [email protected]


[3] Physics: Revisiting the photoelectric effect (pp 190-193)

A ‘neo-classical’ take on the photoelectric effect originally discovered by Einstein — an effect that contradicts the expectations of classical physics — is presented in this week’s Nature. Modified classical dynamics are demonstrated in a study of photoelectron emission from single nanostructures.

Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect, whereby light interacting with surfaces can cause emission of electrons, is based on the theory that light is both a particle and a wave. Thus, these light–matter interactions are governed by both classical and quantum mechanical concepts. Extreme limits of these interactions have been observed on nanostructures that can enhance the local intensity of emitted electrons at fixed visible wavelengths. Claus Ropers and colleagues build on this work and demonstrate dynamics exclusive to nanostructures and establish new constraints on ultrafast manipulation of electron dynamics.

These findings expand the present understanding of strong-field emission processes and may be of particular relevance for the development of new and sophisticated ultrafast electron probes with custom-designed properties.

Claus Ropers (University of Göttingen, Germany)
Tel: +49 551 394 549; E-mail: [email protected]


[4] Geology: A ‘rusty sink’ for organic carbon (pp 198-200; N&V)

Reactive iron may be a key factor in the long-term storage of organic carbon in sediments. A report in this week’s Nature shows that around 25% of organic carbon buried in the freshwater and marine sediments investigated in this study is intimately associated with iron. These iron compounds provide an extremely efficient sink for organic carbon and the complexes seem to have an important role in the carbon cycle.

Iron’s preservative effect on organic matter is well established and it has been demonstrated that solid iron phases can preserve organic carbon in soil. Whether this preservation mechanism occurs in sediments has been poorly understood; Yves Gélinas and colleagues address this question by studying sediments from a range of freshwater, estuarine and marine sources. The authors find that about 25% of organic carbon in the sediments tested is directly bound to reactive iron phases. In addition, they estimate that about 22% of the total surface marine sedimentary organic carbon is preserved by its association with iron.

The authors suggest that their results have many implications for our understanding of organic matter cycling in sediments. For example, they may help to explain how reactive organic compounds are protected from degradation.

Yves Gélinas (Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
Tel: +1 514 848 2424 ext. 3337; E-mail: [email protected]

Timothy Eglinton (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, MA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 508 289 2627; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] Physics: Validation of Landauer's principle (pp 187-189)

Results of an experiment that validates an important principle for information theory and computer science are published in Nature this week. The work shows that erasing information produces heat, as predicted by Rolf Landauer fifty years ago, and demonstrates the intimate link between information theory and thermodynamics.

Landauer’s principle applies thermodynamic reasoning to information processing and states that any logically irreversible transformation, such as the deletion of a classical bit of information, dissipates heat. Experimental validation of Landauer’s erasure principle has been difficult to achieve, owing to the difficulty of realizing single-particle experiments with low heat dissipation.

Eric Lutz and colleagues now overcome such difficulties, using an optically trapped silicon bead as a generic model of a one-bit memory. They measure the average heat dissipated over many erasure cycles, showing that it converges to (but never exceeds) the limit set by Landauer’s principle.

Eric Lutz (University of Augsburg, Germany)
Tel: +49 8 215 983 218; E-mail: [email protected]


[6] And finally... Imaging ultrafast, atomic-scale structural changes (pp 194-197; N&V)

Observations of atoms moving inside a molecule on a timescale shorter than one millionth of one billionth of a second (one femtosecond) are reported in this week’s Nature. The imaging tool used in this study can determine structural changes in molecules. Establishing the structure of molecules and solids is of great interest to all branches of science as it influences their properties.

Recent technical developments have improved the possibility of obtaining ultrafast snapshots of molecules or systems, such as liquids and solids, undergoing structural changes. Cosmin Blaga and colleagues use a method called laser-induced electron diffraction (LIED) to map the structural response of oxygen and nitrogen molecules to ionization. This technique enables precise measurements of bond-length displacements of 0.1 ångströms (0.1 billionths of a millimetre) occurring in a time interval of 5 femtoseconds. The authors conclude that LIED is a promising approach for imaging of gas-phase molecules with unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution.

Cosmin Blaga (The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA)
Tel: +1 614 688 5817; E-mail: [email protected]

Misha Ivanov (Imperial College London, UK) N&V author
Tel: +44 20 7594 9719; E-mail: [email protected]



[7] On the difficulty of increasing dental complexity
DOI: 10.1038/nature10876

[8] The 2.8-Å crystal structure of the dynein motor domain
DOI: 10.1038/nature10955

[9] The BAH domain of ORC1 links H4K20me2 to DNA replication licensing and Meier–Gorlin syndrome
DOI: 10.1038/nature10956

[10] A petunia ABC protein controls strigolactone-dependent symbiotic signalling and branching
DOI: 10.1038/nature10873

[11] Phase transitions in the assembly of multivalent signalling proteins
DOI: 10.1038/nature10879

[12] An oxygenase that forms and deoxygenates toxic epoxide
DOI: 10.1038/nature10862



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.

Rio de Janeiro: 2

Burnaby: 2
Calgary: 2
Montreal: 4
Toronto: 2
Vancouver: 2
Victoria: 2

Beijing: 1

Aarhus: 1, 2

Helsinki: 7

Lyon: 5
Montpellier: 1

Augsburg: 5
Berlin: 5
Freiburg: 12
Göttingen: 3
Kaiserslautern: 5
Leipzig: 1

Beer Sheva: 2

Saitama: 2
Suita: 8
Tokyo: 8
Toyonaka: 8

Wageningen: 10

Barcelona: 1

Stockholm: 2

Fribourg: 10
Geneva: 1, 2
Zurich: 10

Cambridge: 1
Cardiff: 1
Hinxton: 1
Liverpool: 1, 2
Manchester: 2
Norwich: 1
Oxford: 1
Swansea: 2
Warrington: 2

Auburn: 2
Berkeley: 2, 11
Escondido: 1
Oakland: 1
Riverside: 9
Stanford: 9
New Haven: 1
Argonne: 11
Manhattan: 6
Baton Rouge: 11
Bethesda: 1
Saint Louis: 1
New York
New York: 9
Columbus: 6
University Park: 11
Dallas: 11
Seattle: 1



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
Eiji Matsuda, 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: 07 Mar 2012

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