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Article Released Wed-31st-October-2007 20:31 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 The brain in glorious Technicolor

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Fires affect carbon balance in boreal forest, Breaking the silence, Stars spiral into life, Dance for your supper, Time taken to first base, The workhorse picks up speed and Caribbean reefs struggling to recover from ecological sucker punches


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· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Neuroscience: The brain in glorious Technicolor

Climate: Fires affect carbon balance in boreal forest

Hearing: Breaking the silence

Space: Stars spiral into life

Neuroscience: Dance for your supper

Dynamics: Time taken to first base

Nanoscale imaging: The workhorse picks up speed

And finally… Caribbean reefs struggling to recover from ecological sucker punches

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Neuroscience: The brain in glorious Technicolor (pp 55-62)

With a combination of genetic tricks and fancy proteins, researchers have colourfully labelled hundreds of individual neurons with distinctive hues to create a ‘Brainbow’. The research, published in Nature this week, takes mapping to a new level, and results in the labelling of neurons with approximately 90 different colour combinations.

Over a hundred years ago, Ramon Y Cajal’s use of Golgi staining on nerve cells opened the gates to modern neuroscience, but until now it has been tough to map out individual cells in each neuronal circuit. Jeff Lichtman and colleagues have developed the Technicolor version of Golgi staining, Brainbow, allowing more detailed reconstructions of brain circuits. This provides a key step towards modelling how the nervous system works normally and in diseased brains.


Jeff Lichtman (Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma, USA)

Tel: +1 617 496 8943; E-mail:

[2] Climate: Fires affect carbon balance in boreal forest (pp 89-92)

Carbon balance in the Canadian boreal forest is driven primarily by fire disturbance rather than by climate change, according to modelling research in Nature this week. The researchers claim that overall changes in climate have not yet been felt in this large boreal region, and that variations in the landscape carbon balance and vegetation dominance have so far been largely driven by increases in fire frequency.

Ben Bond-Lamberty and colleagues use a process model with three competing vegetation types to examine the effects of climate, carbon dioxide concentrations and fire disturbance on a large area of Canadian boreal forest. They report that the carbon balance between 1948 and 2005 was driven largely by changes in fire disturbance. More frequent and larger fires in the late twentieth century resulted in deciduous trees and mosses increasing production at the expense of coniferous trees. They also find that poor soil drainage decreased the variability of the landscape carbon balance, suggesting that increased climate and hydrological changes do have the potential to affect disproportionately the carbon dynamics of these areas.


Ben Bond-Lamberty (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA)

Tel: +1 608 265-5628; E-mail:

[3] Hearing: Breaking the silence (pp 50-55; N&V)

Mechanisms that click into action in the inner ear before the onset of hearing are described in Nature this week. Dwight E. Bergles and colleagues demonstrate that non-sensory cells prepare neighbouring hair cells for the reception of sound. Understanding this mechanism could help researchers investigating conditions such as tinnitus, where sensory-independent activity occurs without sound.

Acoustic information is detected by inner hair cells in mammalian cochleae and is transmitted to the brain by means of the auditory nerve. However, auditory nerve activity is evident before the cochlear machinery develops the ability to process auditory information. The team show that supporting cells located in a structure known as Kölliker’s organ spontaneously release ATP, which activates inner hair cells, causing them to transmit to the auditory nerve fibres. The spontaneous activity ceases after hearing begins, ensuring that this independent activity does not interfere with the detection of sound.


Dwight E. Bergles (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA)

Tel: +1 410 955 6939; E-mail:

Ian D. Forsythe (University of Leicester, US)
Tel: +44 116 252 5580; E-mail:

[4] Space: Stars spiral into life (pp 71-73)

As young stars form, their rotating accretion disks eject jets of gas thought to be shaped and regulated by magnetic field lines. The helical structure of the magnetic field is demonstrated for the first time in this week’s Nature.

New stars form as gas clouds, which collapse under the influence of gravity. As the collapsing cloud gets smaller the rotation accelerates, like an ice skater executing a spin. But some of this rotational energy must be dissipated for the star to contract completely. The cloud’s magnetic field makes this possible. The fast rotation winds up the magnetic field into a helical structure that lifts material away, removing some of the gas’s rotational energy and allowing it to collapse further. Antonio Chrysostomou and colleagues use polarized light from the outflow to show that the magnetic field is indeed helical.


Antonio Chrysostomou (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)
Tel: +44 1707 28400; E-mail:

[5] Neuroscience: Dance for your supper (pp 63-70; N&V)

Food-seeking behaviour in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans is presented as the product of simple neuronal circuitry in a paper in this week’s Nature. The tiny worm has only 300 nerve cells yet displays rich variations in this food-seeking activity; here, researchers follow the information from environmental stimuli through to the resulting changes in locomotion.

Cornelia I. Bargmann and colleagues use genetics and calcium imaging to dissect the circuitry that allows odour-sensing neurons to activate or inhibit other neurons controlling crawling and turning. The logic of this odour-sensing circuitry in the blind nematode is similar to that used to sense light in the mammalian retina.


Cornelia I. Bargmann (Rockefeller University/HHMI, New York, NY, USA)

Tel: +1 212 327 7242; E-mail:

Piali Sengupta (Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA)

Tel: +1 781 736 2686; E-mail:

[6] Dynamics: Time taken to first base (pp 77-80; N&V)

How long does it take a random walker to reach a distant point? The answer — known as the 'first-passage time' — applies to a wide range of dynamic processes, including diffusion in disordered materials, disease spreading, and neuron firing. In a paper in this week’s Nature, researchers come up with an ingenious way to evaluate this key interval for complex media across the board.

Olivier Bénichou and his colleagues predicted first-passage times with remarkable accuracy in a wide variety of model physical systems. Their method bypasses the limitations of earlier attempts to determine this elusive quantity.

The team discovered that the equations describing first-passage times have a universal aspect — implying a common type of behaviour, despite the diversity of physical systems investigated.


Olivier Bénichou (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France)
Tel: +33 1 44 27 25 29 ; E-mail :

Michael Shlesinger (Office of Naval Research, Arlington, VA, USA)
Tel: +1 703 696 4220; E-mail:

[7] Nanoscale imaging: The workhorse picks up speed (pp 85-88)

A cunning modification to a 25-year-old staple microscopy technique is set to unveil new vistas at the nanoscale. Researchers announce in this week’s Nature that they can collect images roughly 100 times faster than state-of-the-art scanning tunnelling microscopes, thanks to their specially designed radio-frequency measurement circuit.

The scanning tunnelling microscope has helped reveal the secrets of semiconductors, superconductors and nanosystems, to name a few of the celebrities exposed to its scrutiny. But it has so far been limited by its seemingly ponderous pace, which is in fact due to the limited high-frequency response of the tunnel current readout circuitry.

Having dramatically speeded things up by improving the bandwidth, Kamil Ekinci and colleagues go on to demonstrate the new virtuosity of their micrographs. Rapidly changing topography of atomic surfaces and nanoscale heat transfer are ripe for capture. The field is wide open for more revelations.


Kamil Ekinci (Boston University, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 353 8670; E-mail:

[8] And finally… Caribbean reefs struggling to recover from ecological sucker punches (pp 98-101)

A new study highlights the series of setbacks that have beset Caribbean coral reefs over the past few decades. The study charts the combination of events that has left the coral reefs in danger of converting to a new ecosystem type — one dominated not by living coral but by blooms of algae.

A group of ecologists led by Peter J. Mumby constructed a mathematical model to investigate the effects of a series of events, each of which acted as sucker punches that damaged reef health over the 1980s. First, coral was damaged by Hurricane Allen in 1980, and shortly after, in 1983, the ecosystem was rocked by a mass die-off of the urchin Diadema antillarum, which help to maintain coral health by grazing algae growing on dead coral, allowing the reef to be recolonized by healthy new coral colonies.

As Mumby and colleagues explain in this week’s Nature, this combination of events — as well as the impact of the immense Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 — left the coral vulnerable to being taken over by algae. Their analysis may offer strategies for rescuing the reef ecosystem, perhaps by promoting populations of parrotfish, which also graze algae growing on the reef.


Peter J. Mumby (University of Exeter, UK)
The author is travelling. Please contact via University Press Office

Esther White / Sarah Hoyle Tel: +44 1392 262307 or: +44 1392 262062



[9] Patterns of relative species abundance in rainforests and coral reefs (pp 45-49)

[10] The rotating wind of the quasar PG 17001518 (pp 74-76)

[11] Abrupt onset of a second energy gap at the superconducting transition of underdoped Bi2212 (pp 81-84)

[12] Convergent dental adaptations in pseudo-tribosphenic and tribosphenic mammals (pp 93-97)

[13] Probing the chemistry of thioredoxin catalysis with force (pp 124-127)


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.


Waterloo: 11


Beijing: 12


Paris: 6


Padova: 9


Tel Aviv: 6


Tokyo: 11


Balboa: 9


Stockholm: 13


Exeter: 8

Hatfield: 4, 10

London: 3



Berkeley: 11

Davis: 8

Los Angeles: 9

Stanford: 5, 11


Baltimore: 3


Boston: 7

Cambridge: 1

New York

Ithaca: 7

New York: 5, 13

Rochester: 10

Pittsburgh: 12

University Park: 9


Madison: 2


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

Ruth Francis, Nature London

Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail

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