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Article Released Wed-13th-June-2007 17:13 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Genetics: DNA ‘instruction manual’ deciphered

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Saturn’s magnetosphere gets the Cassini treatment, Transients in the sky: Stellar puzzle, Why cold is such a pain, Human carbon footprint leaves a lasting mark on forests, Water on Mars revisited and The eyes have it


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.447 NO.7146 DATED 14 JUNE 2007

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Genetics: DNA ‘instruction manual’ deciphered

Planetary science: Saturn’s magnetosphere gets the Cassini treatment

Transients in the sky: Stellar puzzle

Physiology: Why cold is such a pain

Ecology: Human carbon footprint leaves a lasting mark on forests

Planetary science: Water on Mars revisited

And finally… The eyes have it

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Genetics: DNA ‘instruction manual’ deciphered (pp 799-816; N&V)

After sequencing the human genome, the next logical step is to figure out how cells make use of this instruction manual. In this week’s Nature, researchers do just that, with the results of a huge project that identifies and analyses functional elements taken from part of the human genome.

Thirty-five groups provided over 200 data sets, comprising around 1% of the human genome, for the pilot of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Project. Ewan Birney and an international consortium then described which parts of the selected DNA are transcribed into RNA, where specific proteins are bound to the DNA, how the sequence compares to that of other organisms, and what form the structure of chromatin (the complex of DNA and proteins that make up chromosomes) takes in the selected regions.

From this, the consortium derived a number of exciting new insights into both the nature and evolution of DNA sequences important for biological function. For example, most of the DNA studied appears to be transcribed into RNA, and these DNA transcripts overlap extensively. This is at odds with the view that the human genome contains a relatively small set of discrete genes alongside a mass of biologically inactive 'junk DNA'.

The team also found that around one-half of the genome's functional elements appears to be able to change sequence more freely than expected across mammalian evolution. This suggests the existence of a large pool of neutral elements that are biochemically active but provide no specific benefit to the organism, which may serve as a 'warehouse' for natural selection.

Please note this paper is being published at the same time and with the same embargo as several related papers in Genome Research.


Ewan Birney (EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK)
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Anna-Lynn Wegener (EMBL Press Officer, Heidelberg, Germany)

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Zhiping Wang (Boston University, MA, USA) Co-author

Tel: +1 617 353 3509; E-mail:

John M. Greally (Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA) N&V author

Tel: +1 718 430 2875; E-mail:

Chris Gunter (Senior Editor, Nature)

Tel: +1 212 726 9376; E-mail:

[2] Planetary science: Saturn’s magnetosphere gets the Cassini treatment (pp 833-835)

Saturn’s magnetosphere overturns in a way similar to that of Jupiter’s, a Nature study reveals this week.

It’s known that cold, dense plasma from Jupiter’s inner magnetosphere is flung outward and replaced by hotter plasma from the outer magnetosphere — a little like convection in a pot of liquid. But whether the same is true for Saturn’s magnetosphere has been a matter of debate, given that Saturn’s magnetosphere shares other features with that of Earth. William Lewis and colleagues now study the cold plasma next to hot, inward-moving plasma in its magnetosphere to show that this cold plasma is outward bound, so Saturn’s magnetosphere does indeed have similar overturning to Jupiter’s — a discovery made possible by Cassini’s plasma spectrometer.


William Lewis (Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX, USA)
Tel: +1 210 522 5651; E-mail:

[4] Transients in the sky: Stellar puzzle (pp 829-832)

In 2004, astronomers observed an incredibly bright stellar flare. Then two years later, they spotted a type 1b supernova in the same vicinity. In this week's Nature, researchers now confirm that the two events occurred in the same place, making it an unlikely coincidence and something of a puzzle.

Andrea Pastorello and colleagues offer a few explanations. The initial flare could have come from a Wolf–Rayet star — a very hot, massive, dying star that throws out a lot of gas. Or it could have come from a binary system, containing the supernova and a luminous blue variable — a bright, hypergiant, variable star that flares periodically. The authors’ conclusions support another publication by an independent group in the journal Astrophysics (R. J. Foley et al. Astrophys. J. 657, L105–L108; 2007).


Andrea Pastorello (Queen's University Belfast, UK)
Tel: +44 28 9097 3509; E-mail:

[5] Physiology: Why cold is such a pain (pp 855-858)

A key molecule that helps animals to feel pain at cold temperatures is described in this week's Nature.

Katharina Zimmermann and colleagues show that a protein called Nav1.8 allows information to be transmitted along sensory nerve fibres in cold conditions. The molecule is a voltage-gated sodium channel, an integral membrane protein that allows sodium ions to pass through a neuron's outer membrane.

There are other voltage-gated sodium channels in sensory neurons, but this one keeps working when the temperature drops — in fact, its currents are actually larger in colder conditions. This may help explain why, although sensory acuity deteriorates at cold temperatures, pain perception persists and cold stimuli themselves can be painful.


Katharina Zimmermann (University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany)
Tel: +49 91 31 85 22 228; E-mail:

[6] Ecology: Human carbon footprint leaves a lasting mark on forests (pp 848-850; N&V)

Human activities are having profound and overwhelming effects on the carbon balance of forests in the Northern Hemisphere, suggests a paper in this week’s Nature. The finding has implications for forest management as well as our understanding of the global carbon and nitrogen cycles.

Human activities, such as agricultural fertilization and biomass burning, are pumping more nitrogen into the atmosphere, which in turn is having a positive effect on the growth of Northern Hemisphere forests, report Federico Magnani and colleagues. As the forests grow they lock away more carbon, so human activities are directly changing the dynamics of the carbon cycle, albeit in a complex and non-linear way.

The team’s study takes into account the many variables affecting carbon cycling, including rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, changes in land use, and plant photosynthesis and respiration. And the results show that mankind is ultimately controlling the carbon balance of temperate and boreal forests, either directly through forest management or indirectly through nitrogen deposition.


Federico Magnani (Universita di Bologna, Italy)
Tel: +39 051 209 6466; E-mail:

Peter Hogberg (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umea, Sweden) N&V author
Tel: +46 90 78 68 353; E-mail:

[7] Planetary science: Water on Mars revisited (pp 840-843; N&V)

There may once have been an ocean of water on the surface of Mars after all, a Nature paper suggests. A change in the planet’s orientation could explain some features controversially interpreted as ancient martian shorelines.

Some think that the northern plains of Mars, covering nearly one-third of the planet’s surface, may have contained an ocean in the distant past. The most provocative piece of evidence for this is a set of surface features that ring the plains for thousands of kilometres, which have been interpreted as a series of former shorelines. But these ‘shorelines’ vary in elevation by up to several kilometres, instead of all being at ‘sea level’, casting doubt on this theory.

J. Taylor Perron and colleagues now show that true polar wander — a change in the orientation of the surface of a planet with respect to its rotation pole — could explain the elevations of the proposed shorelines, reviving the hypothesis that an ancient ocean once covered a large part of the martian surface.


J. Taylor Perron (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 495 4687; E-mail:

Maria T. Zuber (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 617 253 6397; E-mail:

[8] And finally… The eyes have it (pp 851-854)

The jumpy, involuntary movements made by our eyes when we look at something may have a hitherto unrecognized function, a Nature paper suggests. They may help us process detail in the world.

Although we are not aware of them, small, jittery eye movements keep the retinal image in constant motion and around half a century ago researchers showed that if retinal motion is eliminated in the laboratory, vision fades. But researchers have since debated whether these movements serve any additional purpose.

Using a new technique for counteracting the visual effects of these tiny movements, Michele Rucci and colleagues now show that without them, perception of fine-grained information is reduced. This suggests that fixational eye movements are part of a key strategy used by the brain to extract fine details of visual information.


Michele Rucci (Boston University, MA, USA)

Tel: +39 055 20 22 834; E-mail:

Please note that the author is travelling but will have email access.


[9] Exploitation of structural and regulatory diversity in glutamate racemases (pp 817-822)

[10] Demonstration of controlled-NOT quantum gates on a pair of superconducting quantum bits (pp 836-839)

[11] HDAC6 rescues neurodegeneration and provides an essential link between autophagy and the UPS (pp 859-863)

[12] RAS–RAF–MEK-dependent oxidative cell death involving voltage-dependent anion channels (pp 864-868)

[13] Resolvin E1 and protectin D1 activate inflammation-resolution programmes (pp 869-874)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 13 June 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 14 June, but at a later date.***

[14] Protective and therapeutic role for aB-crystallin in autoimmune demyelination

DOI: 10.1038/nature05935


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.


St Lucia: 1


Vienna: 1


Montreal: 6

Toronto: 7


Beijing: 3, 4

Nei Mongol: 3


Helsinki: 6


Gif-sur-Yvette: 4

Marseille: 4

Paris: 4

Villenave d’Ornon: 6


Berlin: 13

Erlangen: 5

Leipzig: 1

Munich: 4


Asiago: 4

Bologna: 6

Ferrara: 4

Ispra: 6

Padua: 4

Potenza: 6

Teramo: 4

Trieste: 4

Viterbo: 6


Fukuoka: 4, 5

Saitama: 1

Sumoto: 4

Tokyo: 13

Yamagata: 4

Yokohama: 1


Delft: 10

Leiden: 14

Noordwijk: 2


Bucharest: 5


Singapore: 1


Barcelona: 1

Madrid: 1

Tenerife: 4


Lund: 6

Molndal: 9

Stockholm: 4

Uppsala: 1, 6


Geneva: 1

Lausanne: 1


Belfast: 4

Cambridge: 1

Edinburgh: 6

London: 1, 2, 5

Manchester: 1

Oxford: 1

Suffolk: 4

Surrey: 2



Berkeley: 1, 7

Davis: 1

La Jolla: 1

Menlo Park: 1

Oakland: 1

Palo Alto: 14

Santa Clara: 1

Santa Cruz: 1

Stanford: 1, 11, 14


New Haven: 1

District of Columbia

Washington: 7


Bethesda: 1, 11, 14

College Park: 11


Boston: 1, 8, 13, 14

Cambridge: 1, 7, 11

Waltham: 9

Worcester: 1


Ann Arbor: 1


St Louis: 1

New Mexico

Santa Fe: 1

New York

Ithaca: 1

New York: 12

North Carolina

Chapel Hill: 1

Durham: 1, 11


Corvallis: 6


Philadelphia: 11

University Park: 1


Houston: 1

San Antonio: 2


Salt Lake City: 12


Charlottesville: 1


Seattle: 1


Madison: 1


For North America and Canada

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington

Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan

Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above

Helen Jamison, Nature London

Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail

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Keywords associated to this article: Planetary science, Genetics, Astronomy, Physiology, Ecology
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