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Article Released Wed-22nd-April-2009 18:55 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Carbon cycle: China’s terrestrial carbon balance

Summaries of newsworthy paper include They know where you are, Sealing the past, Bright skies spell bad news?, Sniffing out sickness, Shake, rattle, control, Dengue virus host factors identified, Probing enormous exotic molecules and Don’t judge an asteroid by its colour


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.458 NO.7241 DATED 23 APRIL 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Carbon cycle: China’s terrestrial carbon balance

Commentary: They know where you are

Relics: Sealing the past

Climate change: Bright skies spell bad news?

Olfaction: Sniffing out sickness

Physics: Shake, rattle, control

Immunology: Dengue virus host factors identified

Physics: Probing enormous exotic molecules

And finally… Don’t judge an asteroid by its colour

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Carbon cycle: China’s terrestrial carbon balance (pp 1009-1013; N&V)

Chinese terrestrial ecosystems may have absorbed 28–37% of the country’s anthropogenic CO2 emissions over the last two decades, a Nature paper suggests.

Shilong Piao and colleagues analysed the terrestrial carbon balance of China during the 1980s and 1990s using three different methods: biomass and soil carbon inventories, ecosystem models and atmospheric inversions. The three methods produce similar estimates of a net carbon sink in a range of 0.19 to 0.26 billion tonnes of carbon per year. Global terrestrial ecosystems, in comparison, have absorbed carbon at a rate of 1 to 4 billion tonnes per year during the 1980s and 1990s, which offsets 10–60% of fossil fuel emissions.

The findings suggest that northeast China is a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere owing to overharvesting and degradation of forests. In contrast, southern China accounts for more than 65% of the carbon sink, which can be attributed to regional climate change, large-scale plantation programmes and shrub recovery.

Shilong Piao (Peking University, Beijing, China)
Tel: +86 10 6275 1179; E-mail:

Kevin Robert Gurney (Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 765 494 5982; E-mail:

Commentary: They know where you are (p 968)

Tracking someone’s movements 24 hours a day, without their knowledge, can be done for less than US$500 a year — and anyone can get their hands on the technology.

In this week’s Commentary, Jerome Dobson investigates a dark side to the information revolution: the growth in services that use Global Positioning System receivers, radio transmitters and geographic information systems to provide constant surveillance of people. Devices installed in a bracelet or tag can reveal the carrier’s coordinates and that information can be mapped to the nearest street or building. A laptop on a wireless network or a mobile phone can be located in a similar way.

Dobson warns that this has serious implications for privacy and personal freedom. It is now relatively easy, for example, for employers to constantly monitor the whereabouts of their staff, or for a woman or man to track her or his spouse’s every step. Dobson proposes legal changes to help ensure the technology is not abused and to stop appropriate use evolving into something more troublesome.

Jerome Dobson (University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA)
Tel: +1 785 864 5536; Email:

[2] Relics: Sealing the past (pp 1021-1024)

How did the seal get its flippers? A new fossil from the Arctic in Canada adds to the puzzle and is described in Nature this week. The creature has limbs akin to those of modern-day land carnivores rather than the flippers seen in the earliest known aquatic mammals, indicating that, in the evolution from land to water, the pinnipeds went through an otter-like freshwater phase.

Seals, sea lions and walruses — known as pinnipeds — evolved from land-living carnivores, but the earliest known pinniped, Enaliarctos, already had flippers. Natalia Rybczynski and colleagues describe the near complete skeleton of a semi-aquatic carnivore from the early Miocene epoch. The creature has a long tail and flattened fingers suggesting webbing, but the proportions of its limbs are more like modern bears, skunks and otters. The discovery indicates not only a freshwater transitional phase but also that the Arctic may have been an early centre of pinniped evolution.

Natalia Rybczynski (Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada)
This author can be contacted through:
Dan Smythe (Media Relations, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada)
Tel: +1 613 566 4781; E-mail:

[3] Climate change: Bright skies spell bad news? (pp 1014-1017)

Increases in diffuse radiation — as seen during the ‘global dimming’ of the late twentieth century — increase global carbon sequestration, a Nature paper suggests. The paradoxical finding has worrying implications for our planned brighter skies of the future.

Plant photosynthesis is powered by solar radiation, but previous studies have shown that diffuse radiation can yield more fixed carbon than direct radiation. Lina Mercado and colleagues’ modelling study predicts that the diffuse radiation experienced between 1960 and 1999 enhanced the terrestrial carbon sink by around a quarter. The study also suggests that reducing future anthropogenic pollution will reduce this diffuse radiation effect and could exacerbate global warming.

Lina Mercado (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK)
Tel: +44 1491 692 568; Mobile: +44 7879 458 926; E-mail:

[4] Olfaction: Sniffing out sickness (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08029

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 22 April 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 23 April, but at a later date. ***

A novel receptor type has been identified in the nerve cells lining the pheromone-detecting sense organ in mice. The discovery, reported in this week’s Nature, may help to explain why the animals are so adept at ‘sniffing out’ spoiled foods and sickly individuals.

Ivan Rodriguez and colleagues show that five members of the formyl peptide receptor-related gene family (FPR) are expressed in the neurons lining the vomeronasal organ, an olfactory sense organ found in mice and many other animals. The proteins are the third group of G-protein-coupled receptors — a large protein family of transmembrane receptors that regulate signal transduction pathways — to be implicated in the pheromone-sensing vomeronasal organ.

FPRs are known to help regulate the immune cell response to infection. Here, the authors show that FPRs respond to chemicals linked with disease and inflammation, which are excreted in urine. This raises the possibility that the receptors may help the animals to detect contaminated compounds, such as spoiled foods, and identify unhealthy individuals via the smell of their urine — two tasks at which mice excel.

Ivan Rodriguez (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Tel: +41 22 379 5217; E-mail:

[5] Physics: Shake, rattle, control (pp 1001-1004)

A new method of controlling and detecting the vibrations of tiny mechanical elements on a chip is revealed in this week’s Nature. It’s thought the technique will prove useful in signal processing and sensing applications, for which efficient driving and detection schemes are vital.

Jörg Kotthaus and colleagues have adapted a commonplace phenomenon: the force experienced by a non-conducting material when a non-uniform electric field is applied to it. This is seen, for example, when a comb charged with static electricity is brought close to a thin jet of water, causing the water stream to bend. The technique is simple and speedy, and the authors believe it could be applied to nearly all materials.

Jörg Kotthaus (Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany)
Tel: +49 89 2180 3737; E-mail:

[6] Immunology: Dengue virus host factors identified (pp 1047-1050)

Dozens of human dengue virus host factors (DVHFs) have been identified, thanks to a high-throughput RNA interference study of fruitfly cells. It’s hoped that the factors, which are required for the virus to spread in insects and humans, will prove useful therapeutic targets and aid the design of new treatments and vaccines.

Mariano Garcia-Blanco identified more than 100 candidate DVHFs in their genome-wide RNA interference screen of cultured Drosophila melanogaster cells. The DVHFs had 82 recognisable human homologues, of which 42 were identified as human DVHFs.

Dengue fever, which is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. The high prevalence, lack of an effective vaccine, and absence of specific treatment conspire to make dengue fever a global public health threat. Before this study, very few insect and human host factors had been identified. It is thought that anti-DVHFs could prove important in controlling dengue epidemics, such as the ones currently affecting Brazil and Bolivia.

Mariano Garcia-Blanco (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA)
This author can be contacted through:

Michelle Gailiun (Media Relations, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA)
Tel: +1 919 660 1306; Mobile: +1 919 724 5343; E-mail:

[7] Physics: Probing enormous exotic molecules (pp 1005-1008; N&V)

An elusive, exotic and enormous ‘Rydberg molecule’ has been created and characterised in the laboratory. The electronically excited molecule relies on an underlying binding mechanism that is fundamentally different from that seen in all other molecules. The achievement, reported in this week’s Nature, raises the exciting prospect of uncovering other exotic molecular species in the near future.

Rydberg atoms have at least one electron excited into an orbital (having a very high principal quantum number) that extends far beyond the nucleus. Based on ideas introduced by Enrico Fermi in 1934, a relatively recent prediction pointed out that the scattering of such an electron from a second atom in the ground-state could give rise to attractive interactions. This would yield giant molecules with huge internuclear separations.

Vera Bendkowsky and colleagues not only made these Rydberg molecules from rubidium atoms, but also obtained their spectra and measured their lifetimes to provide the first direct characterization of some of the properties of this unusual type of molecule.

Vera Bendkowsky (Stuttgart University, Germany)
Tel: +49 711 6856 4977; E-mail:

Chris Greene (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 303 492 4770; E-mail:

[8] And finally… Don’t judge an asteroid by its colour (pp 993-995)

The solar wind causes asteroid surfaces to redden rapidly, a Nature paper suggests.

Asteroids are much ‘redder’ than meteorites and it’s thought that this is because they are older and have experienced more ‘space weathering’. But the actual processes and timescales involved remain controversial.

Pierre Vernazza and colleagues conclude that space weathering must be a very rapid process, with silicate-rich asteroids acquiring their most of their final colour within a million years. The weathering is probably caused by the solar wind.

Pierre Vernazza (European Space Agency, Noordwijk, Netherlands)
Tel: +31 71 565 3154; E-mail:


[9] Optimized dynamical decoupling in a model quantum memory (pp 996-1000)

[10] The architecture of mutualistic networks minimizes competition and increases biodiversity (pp 1018-1020; N&V)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 22 April 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 23 April, but at a later date. ***

[11] Irreversibility of mitotic exit is the consequence of systems-level feedback
DOI: 10.1038/nature07984

[12] NAADP mobilizes calcium from acidic organelles through two-pore channels
DOI: 10.1038/nature8030


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.

Ottawa: 2

Beijing: 1, 12

Gif-sur-Yvette: 1
Paris: 8
Thiverval-Grignon: 1

Aachen: 4
Bochum: 4
Munich: 5
Stuttgart: 7

Budapest: 11

Pisa: 8

Tokyo: 9

Noordwijk: 8

Singapore: 6

Pretoria: 9

Madrid: 10
Seville: 10

Geneva: 4
Zurich: 3

Edinburgh: 12
Exeter: 3
Harwell: 12
London: 11
Oxford: 11, 12
Wallingford: 1, 3


Boulder: 9

Atlanta: 9

Baltimore: 6

Boston: 6
Cambridge: 8

New Jersey
Piscataway: 12

New York
New York: 2

North Carolina
Durham: 6

Columbus: 12

Norman: 7

Pittsburgh: 2


From North America and Canada
Katherine Anderson, Nature New York
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Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

From Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

From the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Jen Middleton, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail

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Keywords associated to this article: carbon cycle, relics, climate change, olfaction, physicsm immunology, physics
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