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Article Released Wed-21st-September-2005 17:45 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Parched Europe goes from green to red, The early Universe was full of stars, Phosphorous may be biggest biodiversity threat, The making of Earth's crust, How to dismantle an atomic structure, Is it time for a universal register for animal names?

Summaries of newsworthy papers from Nature including An organic thyristor, Sequence of chromosome 18 completed, Surprising diet and lifestyle of ancient microbe revealed, Climate models underestimate air pressure changes and Landscaping by Amazonian ants

VOL.437 NO.7058 DATED 22 SEPTEMBER 2005

* Climate: Parched Europe goes from green to red
* Astronomy: The early Universe was full of stars
* Conductors: An organic thyristor
* Ecology: Phosphorous may be biggest biodiversity threat
* Geology: The making of Earth's crust
* Protein folding and design: How to dismantle an atomic structure
* Nomenclature: Is it time for a universal register for animal names?
* Genetics: Sequence of chromosome 18 completed
* Ecology: Surprising diet and lifestyle of ancient microbe revealed
* Climate research: Climate models underestimate air pressure changes
* And finally... Landscaping by Amazonian ants

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[1] Climate: Parched Europe goes from green to red (pp 529-533; N&V)

The European heat wave during the summer of 2003 produced the warmest August
on record, unleashed massive forest fires, and claimed an estimated 35,000
lives. A team of researchers, led by Philippe Ciais and reporting in this
week's Nature, has now identified another baleful consequence of the soaring
temperatures: plant growth across Europe was reduced by about 30 per cent
during the hot summer.

This meant not only that crop yields were lower than normal, but that the
European ecosystems became a source of positive feedback for global warming,
because the reduced plant growth meant that less carbon dioxide than usual
was taken up from the atmosphere. While climate models have generally tended
to predict that climate warming will enhance plant growth and prolong the
growing season, thereby increasing the amount of carbon fixed in plant
tissues, the 2003 heat wave had the opposite effect. Low rainfall in eastern
Europe and extreme temperatures in western Europe (which topped 40 *C in
France, for example) combined to hinder plant growth in a way that was
unprecedented in Europe over the past century.

These findings come from the researchers' computer models of the
interactions between climate and the biosphere, combined with observations
of carbon dioxide uptake or release from ecosystems, satellite detection of
plant cover, and records of crop yields. Ciais and colleagues warn that
their findings might be indicative of a future pattern in which droughts
transform ecosystems from net carbon sinks to carbon sources, thereby
accelerating climate change.

Philippe Ciais (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement,
Gif sur Yvette, France)
Tel: +33 1 69 08 95 06; E-mail:

Dennis Baldocchi (University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 510 642 2874; E-mail:

[2] Astronomy: The early Universe was full of stars (pp 519-521)

The Universe was a more fertile place soon after it was formed than has
previously been suspected. A new survey of very distant - and therefore old
- galaxies in this week's Nature reveals that there are considerably more of
them than expected.

Olivier Le Fèvre and colleagues have found 970 galaxies that were formed
between 9 and 12 billion years ago. The Universe is believed to be about
13.7 billion years old, and our Sun formed just 4.6 billion years ago.
Very old galaxies are hard to identify unambiguously. The older they are,
the farther they are from us and the faster the expansion of the Universe
carries them away. This makes their light highly 'redshifted', which means
that it has much longer wavelengths by the time it reaches us than it did
when it was emitted by the galaxy's stars. But it can be hard to distinguish
such galaxies from closer but naturally 'redder' ones. Le Fèvre and
colleagues have used a technique that allows old galaxies to be identified
by the light they emit at a single 'band' (a small range of wavelengths) in
the infrared region of the spectrum.

They find that the number of such galaxies is between 1.6 and 6.2 times
larger than earlier estimates. This means that stars must have been formed
in the early Universe at a faster rate than was previously thought.

Olivier Le Fèvre (Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, CNRS, Université
de Provence Aix-Marseille I, Marseille, France)
Tel: + 33 6 08 90 50 43; E-mail:

[3] Conductors: An organic thyristor (pp 522-524)

An organic salt that can be switched between two different conducting states
is reported in this week's Nature. One striking manifestation of this
effect, described by Terasaki and colleagues, is to achieve
direct-to-alternating current conversion phenomena in a bulk single crystal
- the team generate an alternating current of 40 hertz when a small, static
direct-current voltage is applied to the crystal.

The behaviour of this salt is characteristic of that of a class of
electronic device called a thyristor, which are widely used for the smooth
control of power in a variety of applications, such as motors and
refrigerators. But unlike conventional thyristors, which need to be
engineered from a series of diodes, the present material exhibits thyristor
behaviour as a bulk property.

Ichiro Terasaki (Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan)
Tel: +81 3 5286 3854; E-mail: <>

[4] Ecology: Phosphorous may be biggest biodiversity threat (pp 547-550)

Ecologists often state that nitrogen enrichment of ecosystems caused by
human activities - such as fertilizer use - threatens plant biodiversity in
North America and Europe. But a new study, appearing in this week's Nature,
suggests that phosphorous is also a key element to consider when assessing
the causes of species loss.

Martin Wassen and his colleagues conducted a survey of ecosystems covering a
gradient of nitrogen deposition from western Europe to Siberia. In the 274
sites the team examined, endangered plants faired better when phosphorous,
not nitrogen, was limited.

The authors conclude that phosphorous is more likely to cause
species loss. On the basis of these findings, they argue that conservation
policies that focus only on reducing the levels of excess nitrogen are
unlikely to succeed.

Martin J. Wassen (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
Tel: +31 30 253 5764; E-mail:

[5] Geology: The making of Earth's crust (pp 534-538; N&V)

The time it takes for rock to form in volcanic mid-ocean ridges is a lot
shorter than previously thought. A study in this week's Nature reports that
it could take just a few decades, making the chemical and biological
conditions surrounding these underwater volcanoes extremely variable.

The team, led by K. H. Rubin, used natural radioactive isotopes in very
young sea-floor lava flows to model how long it takes for rock to melt and
rise from beneath the Earth's crust to where it solidifies and accumulates
at the deep-sea ridge. By using isotopes with short half-lives they could
determine the timescale more accurately, shaving it down from a maximum of
approximately 1,000 years to about 100 years. Ocean ridge volcanoes account
for most of the Earth's volcanic activity and harbour some of the Earth's
most unusual biological communities. The shorter timescale for crust
formation implies that eruptions may be more frequent than we previously
imagined, and that geological, biological and chemical conditions may
fluctuate rapidly.

Kenneth H. Rubin (University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, USA)
Tel: +1 808 956 8973; E-mail: <>

Tim Elliott (University of Bristol, UK)
Tel: +44 117 954 5426; E-mail:

[6] & [7] Protein folding and design: How to dismantle an atomic structure
(pp 512-518, 579-583; N&V)

An unresolved question in protein biochemistry is answered in this week's
Nature. Namely, what information is both necessary and sufficient for
generating a functional protein? Protein folding is the process by which an
extended protein chain in a disordered conformation arranges itself to form
a well-defined structure, which often has a specific cellular function.
Rama Ranganathan and colleagues used computational protein design to
construct small, artificial WW domains that fold into the characteristic
atomic structure of the WW protein family and recognize proline-containing
peptides - just like the natural proteins do. The information used in
designing these proteins was obtained from multiple sequence alignments
only, with no prior knowledge of three-dimensional structure. Because the
three-dimensional structures of many proteins are not known, understanding
protein folding and evolution is of interest to many scientists who want to
predict the structures of those proteins, and design novel proteins that are
unnatural and biologically active.

Rama Ranganathan (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center/HHMI,
Dallas, TX, USA)
Tel: +1 214 645 5955; E-mail:
<> Author on both papers

Jeffery W. Kelly (The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 784 9880; E-mail: <> News
and Views author

Nomenclature: Is it time for a universal register for animal names? (pp

A new online database of animal species names is needed to make sense of the
bewildering wealth of zoological taxonomy, argues a Commentary in this
week's Nature. The new register, to be called ZooBank, would serve as a
definitive authority on new species and would unify the current smattering
of independent databases.

The Commentary's authors, led by Andrew Polaszek, point out that between
15,000 and 20,000 new animal species are named each year. With an existing
back-catalogue of some 1.5 million names, marshalling this information so
that it benefits scientists is a daunting challenge.

The new resource would combat this problem through mandatory, automated
registration of each and every new animal species name, under the guidance
of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Such a
registration system has already been successfully used for bacteria, as well
as for archiving DNA information in databases such as GenBank. The ICZN has
already begun a year-long consultation on the ZooBank proposal, and the
authors hope that the system can be up and running by 2008 - the 250th
anniversary of the famous Linnaean system under which species still receive
their Latin names.

Andrew Polaszek (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature,
London, UK)
Tel: +44 207 942 5653; E-mail: <>
Please note the author is traveling and will be available on the following
number until Saturday:
Tel: +1 951 784 0300 (hotel); or +1 951 827 4315 (lab)

[8] Genetics: Sequence of chromosome 18 completed (pp 551-555)

Does the proportion of non-protein-coding DNA scale with gene density, or
are the two unrelated? With the completed map of human chromosome 18 - which
has a particularly low density of genes - researchers have had a chance to
address this question.

In this week's issue of Nature, Chad Nusbaum and his colleagues present the
sequence of this chromosome and a new analysis. They conducted a genome-wide
comparison of human and other mammalian DNA, and found similarities in the
levels of non-protein-coding regions among mammals. According to their work,
the prevalence of these regions is uncorrelated with gene density. The study
suggests that there is more to non-coding DNA than meets the eye, especially
when it seems to be evolutionarily conserved across a number of mammalian

Chad Nusbaum (Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 258 0988; E-mail: <>

[9] Ecology: Surprising diet and lifestyle of ancient microbe revealed (pp

Researchers have succeeded in cultivating an elusive type of microbe from
the ocean. Tiny marine life forms, called Crenarchaeota, surf the seas in
almost unimaginable multitude - numbering around 1028 cells throughout the
world's oceans- but have never been isolated and cultured in the laboratory

A team of researchers, led by David Stahl, has now succeeded, discovering
some surprising facts about the diet and lifestyle of these microbes, which
belong to a group called the Archaea. The previously cultured Archaea have
all fed on sulphur at tremendously high temperatures - so-called
thermophiles. But this new species of 'cold-living' marine Crenarchaeota
survive by oxidizing ammonia to nitrite.

By the sheer weight of their numbers, this may make them big players in the
world's nitrogen cycle, the researchers report in this week's Nature. What's
more, their nitrogen-metabolizing genes look superficially similar to those
of as-yet-uncultured terrestrial cold-living Crenarchaeota, which could
indicate that a nitrogen-based lifestyle originated in these ancient
organisms, rather than in bacteria.

David A. Stahl (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA)
Tel: +1 206 685 3464; E-mail:

[10] Climate research: Climate models underestimate air pressure changes (p

Observations show that global warming doesn't just change temperature, but
also affects air pressure. This has been associated with changing weather
patterns such as warmer European winters and more rainfall in Scotland. But
climate models still underestimate changes in air pressure, reports Nathan
Gillett in a Brief Communication in this week's Nature.

Gillett compared air pressure changes at sea level over the past 50 years
with predicted changes from nine state-of-the-art climate models. All models
underestimate the changes, he says.

The problem has been noted before, leading to the suggestion that it might
be resolved by taking into account factors such as ozone depletion in
climate models. But even after accounting for such factors, the models still
underestimate air pressure changes. "If we could understand and correct this
bias," Gillett concludes, "predictions of future regional climate change
would be improved."

Nathan P. Gillett (University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)
Tel: +44 1603 593 647 or +44 7949 758 820; E-mail:

[11] And finally... Amazonian ants poisonous landscaping techniques (pp

Ants in the Amazonian rainforest shape their surroundings to their liking,
using their own built-in herbicide, according to a Brief Communication in
this week's Nature. 'Devil's gardens' are large stands of trees in the
rainforest that are made up almost entirely of one species - Duroia hirsuta
- and, according to local legend, are cultivated by an evil forest spirit.
D. hirsuta is the residence of the ant Myrmelachista schumanni, which nests
in the stems of the tree. The devil's gardens could be created as a result
of allelopathy - whereby one plant species prevents others from growing in
the vicinity - or by selective destruction by the ants themselves. To
identify the killer, Megan Frederickson and colleagues set up an experiment
in which saplings of a common Amazonian cedar, Cedrela odorata, were planted
inside and outside the gardens and either exposed or protected from the
ants. Saplings free of ants thrived, but the culprit was revealed when M.
schumanni workers allowed in the devil's gardens promptly attacked the
saplings - poisoning them with formic acid and causing most of the leaves to
drop off within five days.

The cultivation of devil's gardens by M. schumanni begins when a queen
colonizes a single D. hirsuta tree. Over time, more trees grow in the area
cleared by the ants, with the ant colony expanding to occupy them. By
killing other plants, the ants provide themselves with many nest sites - a
long-lasting benefit as the researchers estimate that the largest garden in
their plot is around 807 years old.

Megan E. Frederickson (Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 725 6791; E-mail:


[12] Pathophysiological consequences of VEGF induced vascular
permeability (pp 497-504)

[13] Structures of complement component C3 provide insights into the
function and evolution of immunity (pp 505-511; N&V)

[14] Optical isotropy and iridescence in a smectic 'blue phase' (pp

[15] Variations in earthquake-size distribution across different stress
regimes (pp 539-542)

[16] Dependence of Drosophila wing imaginal disc cytonemes on
Decapentaplegic (pp 560-563)

[17] Insulin disrupts b-adrenergic signalling to protein kinase A in
adipocytes (pp 569-573)

[18] The protein kinase A anchoring protein mAKAP coordinates two
integrated cAMP effector pathways (pp 574-578)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 21
September 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
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[19] Cardif is an adaptor protein in the RIG-I antiviral pathway and is
targeted by hepatitis C virus
DOI: 10.1038/nature04193


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