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Article Released Wed-4th-February-2009 19:26 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 H5N1 structure reveals focus of viral replication

Summaries of newsworthy papers include The earliest animal life, H5N1 structure reveals focus of viral replication, Failing the fish, Hyper-starburst spawned galaxy bulge, No man is an island, Radioresistance in cancer stem cells explained? and A long story about tropical temperatures


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.457 NO.7230 DATED 05 FEBRUARY 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Relics: The earliest animal life

Immunology: H5N1 structure reveals focus of viral replication

Commentary: Failing the fish

Astronomy: Hyper-starburst spawned galaxy bulge

Essay: No man is an island

Cancer: Radioresistance in cancer stem cells explained?

And finally… A long story about tropical temperatures

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Relics: The earliest animal life (pp 718-721; N&V)

Chemical fossils discovered in sedimentary rocks in Oman provide the earliest evidence so far for animal life. The fossil steroids date back 635 million years to around the end of the last immense ice age.

Gordon Love and colleagues describe in Nature the 24-isopropylcholestanes characteristic of sponges. The steroids date back 635 million years or more to around the time of the Marinoan glaciation, the last of the huge ice ages at the end of the Neoproterozoic. This suggests that the shallow waters in some late Cryogenian ocean basins contained dissolved oxygen in concentrations sufficient to support simple multicellular organisms at least 100 million years before the rapid diversification of bilaterians during the Cambrian explosion.

Gordon Love (University of California, Riverside, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 951 536 0932; E-mail:

Jochen Brocks (The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia) N&V author
Tel: +61 2 6125 7946; E-mail:

[2] & [3] Immunology: H5N1 structure reveals focus of viral replication (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature

***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 04 February 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 them on this release to avoid multiple mailings they will not appear in print on 05 February, but at a later date. ***

A key region of the H5N1 avian influenza virus that is involved in viral replication is revealed in two Nature papers this week. The subunit could prove an important target for new anti-influenza drugs.

The avian influenza A virus contains an enzyme called RNA polymerase that directs the replication and transcription of viral RNA inside the nuclei of infected cells. Separate teams, lead by Stephen Cusack and Zihe Rao, analysed the crystal structure of one of the enzyme’s three subunits, called PA, and found it to have strong endonuclease activity — host messenger RNA binds to the endonuclease site where it is cleaved, triggering the production of viral messenger RNA.

The H5N1 subtype of the avian influenza A virus is entrenched in poultry worldwide and poses a growing threat to human health. Of the 387 reported human cases of avian influenza since 2003, 245 have been fatal. Understanding how the virus replicates is essential for researchers to develop new anti-influenza therapeutics to increase preparedness against a global influenza pandemic.

Stephen Cusack (European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Grenoble, France) Author paper [2]
Tel: +33 476 207 238; E-mail:

Zihe Rao (Tsinghua University, Beijing, China) Author paper [3]
Tel: +1 861062771493; E-mail:

Commentary: Failing the fish (pp 658-659)

In an indictment of worldwide fisheries management, Tony Pitcher and an international team of collaborators report widespread failure to comply with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Together with the WWF, the global conservation organization, the authors are releasing the results of a detailed survey that graded 53 countries together land 96% of the world’s marine catch on both intentions stated and actions taken to comply with the code. The code is a voluntary measure that was developed in 1995, by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as a potential rescue measure for the world’s fisheries.

Twenty-eight countries, representing 40% of the world’s marine fish catch, are failing badly. No country demonstrated much better than 60% compliance. Norway is ranked top, followed by the United States, Canada, Australia, Iceland and Namibia. The authors, in a Commentary in Nature this week, point the finger at the Common Fisheries Policy as being partly responsible for poor compliance in many European Union countries.

Although the voluntary nature of the code was crucial to getting all-nation agreement, the authors say that “the time has come for an integrated international legal instrument covering all aspects of fisheries management".

Tony Pitcher (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
Tel: +1 604 822 2731; E-mail:

[4] Astronomy: Hyper-starburst spawned galaxy bulge (pp 699-701)

Researchers have identified a huge area of intense star formation in a quasar-containing galaxy when the Universe was less than a billion years old.

Fabian Walter and colleagues studied a distant galaxy containing a particular quasar. They report in Nature that the rate of star formation is similar to that seen in a nearby galaxy called Arp 220, but it occurs over an area that is at least 50 times bigger. The team thinks this hyper-starburst, at a time when the Universe was just one-sixteenth of its present age, would eventually give rise to a spherical nuclear bulge in the galaxy, similar to our Milky Way, but much larger.

Fabian Walter (Max-Planck-Institut fur Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany)
Tel: +49 6221 528 225; E-mail:

Essay: No man is an island (pp 660-661)

A plethora of physical and virtual networks -- from power grids, oil pipelines and railroads to trade routes and social networks – enable us to distribute and consume resources on a scale unparalleled in non-human systems. In the last essay in Nature's current series on the science of being human, Melanie Moses gets to grips with humanity's greatest challenge: how to reduce energy consumption in an increasingly networked world.

Drawing on theoretical tools that show how the properties of networked systems change as they grow, Moses offers an explanation for why, as societies consume more energy, people become wealthier but also have fewer children. The so-called Metabolic Theory of Ecology shows that across contemporary nations, the decline in human birth rates with increased energy consumption is quantitatively identical to the decline in fertility rate with increased metabolism in other mammals. It may be then, that like other animals we invest a constant fraction of available resources into each child, but take longer to acquire that fraction in wealthier societies. "As our infrastructure grows, we get more out of it, but must invest proportionally more into it, reducing the energy and capital left to invest in the next generation," argues Moses.

This implies that birth rates decline in wealthy nations only as a by-product of a sharp rise in energy consumption, a worrying prospect in the face of climate change. It also suggests that energy consumption cannot be reduced simply by reducing individual demand. Meeting our greatest global challenges will require understanding individuals as nodes in a network, and how infrastructure networks constrain the choices they make, says Moses.

Melanie Moses (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA)
Tel: +1 505 277 9140; E-mail:

[5] Cancer: Radioresistance in cancer stem cells explained? (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 04 February 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 05 February, but at a later date. ***

Cancer stem cells from breast tumours have lower levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) than other cell types from the same tumour. The finding, reported online in this week’s Nature, may explain why breast cancer often becomes resistant to radiation therapy.

It's known that ionizing radiation prompts cells to release ROS, causing cell damage. Michael Clarke and colleagues found that breast cancer stem cells are relatively resistant to ionizing radiation both in vivo and in vitro. This may be because the cells generate low levels of ROS and develop less DNA damage than other cell types within the same tumour. Indeed human breast cancer stem cells also show the increased expression of several important anti-ROS genes previously shown to mediate radioresistance.

Michael Clarke (Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 498 5852; E-mail:

[6] And finally… A long story about tropical temperatures (pp 715-717; N&V)

The world’s largest snake is reported this week in Nature and the discovery has implications for our understanding of the evolution of global climate. The snake, a relative of the Boa constrictor, was 13 m long, weighed more than a tonne, and would have required temperatures that are hotter than in today’s tropics. The finding calls into question the idea that the climate system has a ‘thermostat’ that regulates tropical temperatures.

Jason Head and colleagues describe the fossil from the oldest known neotropical rainforest fauna from the Cerrejón Formation in northeastern Colombia, around 60 million years ago. The size of cold-blooded creatures is limited by metabolic rate, and this animal would have required a minimum mean annual temperature of 30–34 degrees Celsius to survive.

Jason Head (University of Toronto, Mississauga, ON, Canada)
Tel: +1 905 828 3981; E-mail:

Matthew Huber (Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 465 494 0652; E-mail:


[7] Visualization of a missing link in retrovirus capsid assembly (pp 694-698)

[8] Spin state tomography of optically injected electrons in a semiconductor (pp 702-705)

[9] Holocene oscillations in temperature and salinity of the surface subpolar North Atlantic (pp 711-714)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 04 February 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 05 February, but at a later date.***

[10] Structure and function of the 59R39 exoribonuclease Rat1 and its activating partner Rai1
DOI: 10.1038/nature07731

[11] Role of Jhdm2a in regulating metabolic gene expression and obesity resistance
DOI: 10.1038/nature07777


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.

Canberra: 1

Mississauga: 6

Beijing: 3
Tianjin: 3

Grenoble: 2
St Martin d’Heres: 4

Bonn: 4
Heidelberg: 4

Rome: 4

Saitama: 8
Sendai: 8
Tokyo: 11
Tsukuba: 8

Balboa: 6

Singapore: 3

Cambridge: 9
Cardiff: 9
Newcastle: 1
Nottingham: 1
Oxford: 3


Duarte: 5
Pasadena: 1, 4
Riverside: 1
Stanford: 5

Gainesville: 6

Bloomington: 6

Bethesda: 7

Cambridge: 1

New Jersey
Piscataway: 10

New Mexico
Socorro: 4

New York
New York: 10

North Carolina
Chapel Hill: 11

Hershey: 7


For North America and Canada
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Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
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For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
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