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Article Released Wed-29th-August-2007 17:45 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Cashing in palm oil for conservation

Warm gas blanket for a baby star, Plants’ contribution to climate change effects, Type 2 diabetes all in the mind?, Volcanoes and the evolution of atmospheric oxygen levels, MicroRNA involved in embryonic patterning, Childhood game lends biodiversity insights, Flies can 'taste' fizzy drinks and The origins of the orchid


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.448 NO.7157 DATED 30 AUGUST 2007

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Space: Warm gas blanket for a baby star

Climate: Plants’ contribution to climate change effects

Neuroscience: Type 2 diabetes all in the mind?

Earth Sciences: Volcanoes and the evolution of atmospheric oxygen levels

Commentary: Cashing in palm oil for conservation

Developmental biology: MicroRNA involved in embryonic patterning

Biodiversity: Childhood game lends biodiversity insights

Neurobiology: Flies can 'taste' fizzy drinks

And finally… The origins of the orchid

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Space: Warm gas blanket for baby star (pp 1026-1028)

The development of the disk of dense gas surrounding a young and newly formed star is described in Nature this week. Dan Watson and colleagues show that the star, named NGC1333 – IRAS4B, has a spectrum rich with lines of H2O, at wavelengths of 20 to 37 micrometres, which indicates an origin in extremely dense, warm gas.

The team model the emissions as infall from a protostellar envelope onto the surface of a dense disk. This is the only example from a sample of 30 class 0 objects — very young protostars. It may arise from a favourable orientation or it may be an early and short-lived stage in the evolution of a protoplanetary disk.


Dan Watson (University of Rochester, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 585 275 8576; E-mail:

Whitney Clavin (Media Relations Specialist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 818 354 4673; E-mail:

[2] Climate: Plants’ contribution to climate change effects (pp 1037-1041)

An assessment of the contribution of plant physiological effects to future changes in continental runoff suggests that flooding risk under future global warming scenarios may be greater than previously assumed, according to research in this week’s Nature.

Stomata — the pores that allow carbon dioxide to enter plants and water to escape — open less widely when carbon dioxide concentrations are high, reducing water loss from the plant and thus leaving more water at the land surface. This ‘physiological forcing’ of carbon dioxide is thought to have contributed to the increase in continental runoff observed over the twentieth century, but most predictions of future changes in runoff don’t account for this effect.

Richard Betts and colleagues use a range of experiments with a global climate model to assess this contribution to future changes in continental runoff. They find that the effect increases the simulated mean global runoff by six per cent when carbon dioxide concentration is double pre-industrial levels. This indicates that current scenarios of twenty-first century global warming may underestimate flooding risk but overestimate the affect of climate change on freshwater resources.


Richard Betts (Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Exeter, UK)
Tel: +44 1392 886 877; E-mail:

[3] Neuroscience: Type 2 diabetes all in the mind? (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature06098

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 29 August 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 30 August, but at a later date.***

The brain may have a previously unrecognized role in type 2 diabetes, a paper published online this week in Nature suggests. Glucose-sensitive neurons may be impaired — a finding that has therapeutic implications.

It is already known that a group of nerve cells called pro-opiomelanocortin neurons are excited by glucose, but the significance of this finding has been unclear. Bradford B. Lowell and colleagues now show that mice with impaired pro-opiomelanocortin neurons develop glucose intolerance, and demonstrate that the same cells are also defective in mice with obesity-induced type 2 diabetes.

The results suggest that an abnormality in the brain’s ability to sense glucose may contribute to type 2 diabetes. This problem probably coexists alongside the disease’s better known features — dysfunctional insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells and an impaired ability of insulin to act on target tissues. The authors further show that the mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 is somehow involved in glucose insensitivity in the brain.


Bradford B. Lowell (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center & Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 667 5954; Tel:

[4] Earth Sciences: Volcanoes and the evolution of atmospheric oxygen levels (pp 1037-1041; N&V)

Volcanoes may have played a key part in the evolution of atmospheric oxygen levels, a Nature paper suggests. The rise in oxygen levels that occurred around 2.5 billion years ago was probably caused by an abrupt shift from more efficient to less efficient volcanic ‘consumption’ of atmospheric oxygen.

Fossil records suggest that early oxygen-producing organisms appeared some 200 million years before the rise of the atmospheric oxygen concentrations thought to have been established by these organisms in the first place. So why the delay?

Lee R. Kump and Mark E. Barley think that that submarine volcanoes acted as a sink for the oxygen produced by these early organisms, stopping it from escaping into the atmosphere. But the pattern of volcanism changed after a major tectonic episode of continental stabilization around 2.5 billion years ago — submarine volcanism was abruptly diminished while the less-reducing subaerial volcanoes became more common. So with less oxygen sunk into submarine volcanoes, the stage was then set for the rise of atmospheric oxygen.


Lee R. Kump (The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 814 863 1274; E-mail:

Timothy W. Lyons (University of California, Riverside, CA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 951 827 3106; E-mail:

Commentary: Cashing in palm oil for conservation (pp 993-994)

Oil palm plantations in southeast Asia could offer an opportunity to combine sustainable economic growth with the conservation of rainforests, argue Lian Pin Koh and David S. Wilcove in a Commentary in this week’s Nature. “Because the oil palm is such a high yielding and lucrative crop, a unique opportunity exists for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to acquire relatively small tracts of existing oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia and use the revenue generated to establish a network of privately-owned nature reserves”, they write.

Malaysia and Indonesia are the two largest producers of palm oil — obtained from the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) — in the world. They are also home to much of southeast Asia’s tropical forests, sparking fears that swaths of rainforest have been destroyed to meet booming global demand for palm oil, which can be used as a cooking oil or food additive, as well as for biofuel, cosmetics and industrial lubricants. NGOs lobby for the boycott of oil palm products, contending that the crop threatens the survival of many native species, including the orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus). Producers counter that oil palm agriculture is not a threat to biodiversity because most plantations have been converted from logged forests or existing cropland, and with minimal disturbance to pristine habitats.

Lian Pin Koh (Princeton University, NJ, USA)

Tel: +1 609 258 6733; E-mail:

David S. Wilcove (Princeton University, NJ, USA)

Tel: +1 609 258 7118: E-mail:

[5] Developmental biology: MicroRNA involved in embryonic patterning (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature06100

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 29 August 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 30 August, but at a later date.***

MicroRNAs, small single-stranded RNA molecules that help regulate gene expression, may have an important role in embryonic patterning, suggests a study in Nature this week.

Two microRNAs help restrict the size of the Spemann’s organizer, an important structure seen early in development that influences cell fate and patterning, Stefano Piccolo and colleagues report. The microRNAs, called miR-15 and miR-16, are distributed asymmetrically along the dorsoventral axis of Xenopus embryos, where they asymmetrically influence the expression of a particular receptor, called Acvr2a. This means that the receptor's ligand — a protein belonging to the transforming growth factor-beta family (TGF-beta) — is preferentially expressed along one side of the developing embryo also.

The study is the first to link inhibitory microRNAs, the Spemann’s organizer and TGF-beta proteins, which are known to have a key role in development and the maintenance of adult tissue. Furthermore, it provides an elegant mechanism for establishing asymmetries in vertebrate embryos.


Stefano Piccolo (University of Padua, Italy)
Tel: +39 04 98 27 60 98; E-mail:

[6] Biodiversity: Childhood game lends biodiversity insights (pp 1046-1049)

The childhood game of ‘rock–paper–scissors’ can be used to model biodiversity, according to a paper published in this week’s Nature.

Erwin Frey and colleagues reasoned that ecosystem biodiversity is made up of cyclic, non-hierarchical interactions among competing populations, much as rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper wraps rock. In static populations, this results in a status quo in which all species can coexist and biodiversity is maintained. But what happens when species start to move about?

The team used their model to theoretically investigate the influence of mobility on biodiversity. They find that when mobility exceeds a critical value, biodiversity is lost. However, below this threshold, subpopulations can coexist and biodiversity is maintained — a result that may prove relevant in the design of conservation strategies.


Erwin Frey (Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany)
Tel: +49 89 2180 4537; E-mail:

[7] Neuroscience: Fruitflies can ‘taste’ fizzy drinks (pp 1054-1057)

Fruitflies can taste carbon dioxide in the form of carbonated water, a Nature paper reveals this week.

Kristin Scott and colleagues have identified a group of neurons that detects carbonation. It is thought that the sensory system might help the insects track down nutrients from growing microorganisms, making carbonation an attractive taste. This is in contrast to the ‘smell’ of carbon dioxide, which fruitflies find repulsive.


Kristin Scott (University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA)

Tel: +1 510 643 4144; E-mail:

[8] And finally… The origins of the orchid (pp 1042-1045)

An ancient orchid exquisitely preserved in amber and attached to the rear end of a bee is presented in Nature this week. The find is an amazing 15–20 million years old and demonstrates the antiquity of a relationship, between orchids and their pollinators, that has fascinated biologists since the time of Darwin.

Santiago Ramirez and colleagues use the discovery to constrain the predicted evolution of orchids, suggesting that the most recent common ancestor of orchids lived in the Late Cretaceous — 76–84 million years ago — but the dramatic radiation of orchids began shortly after the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, 65 million years ago.


Santiago Ramirez (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 496 4089; E-mail:


[9] Rapid planetesimal formation in turbulent circumstellar disks (pp 1022-1025; N&V)

[10] Direct observation of second-order atom tunneling (pp 1029-1032)

[11] Tip60 is a haplo-insufficient tumour suppressor required for an oncogene-induced DNA damage response (pp 1063-1067)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 29 August 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 30 August, but at a later date.***

[12] Haematopoietic stem cells do not asymmetrically segregate chromosomes or retain BrdU

DOI: 10.1038/nature06115


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.


Crawley: 4


Porto Alegre: 8


Toronto: 9

Winnipeg: 11


Nanjing: 3


Bonn: 10

Heidelberg: 9

Mainz: 10

Munich: 6


Cuneo: 11

Milan: 11

Padua: 5


Michaocan: 1


Leiden: 8


Umea: 10


Zurich: 10


Bristol: 3

Exeter: 2

London: 11

Wallingford: 2



Berkeley: 7

Los Angeles: 1


New Orleans: 5


College Park:


Boston: 3

Cambridge: 8


Ann Arbor: 1, 12

New York

Ithaca: 1

New York: 9, 11

Rochester: 1


Beaverton: 3


Philadelphia: 12


Dallas: 3


Charlottesville: 1, 9


Milwaukee: 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: Space, Climate, Neuroscience, Earth Sciences, palm oil, Developmental biology, Biodiversity, Neurobiology, orchid
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