Table of contents

indicates content that is available online only



Climatologists under pressure p545

Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.



Research Highlights

Statistical physics: Chess obeys the law p546


Immunology: Timely defence p546


Biology: Beetle-juice antifreeze p546


Environmental chemistry: Plucking pollutants p546


Genetics: One on one p546


Neuroscience: Brain's immune connection p546


Ecology: Diverse recovery p547


Genetics: Immune impediment p547


Astronomy: A black hole draws near p547


Neuroscience: Rude awakening p547



Journal Club

Journal club p547

Peter Baumann




News briefing: 3 December 2009 p548

The week in science


China's climate target: is it achievable? p550

The world's top emitter pledges cuts, but "substantial societal reforms" are needed to make them.

Jane Qiu


Battle lines drawn over e-mail leak p551

Climatologists remain sanguine over incident.

Quirin Schiermeier


Spanish awards rekindle old rivalries p552

Infrastructure programme steers substantial resources to major cities, upsetting some regional centres.

Lucas Laursen


US bioethics commission promises policy action p553

Obama launches wide-ranging advisory body.

Vicki Brower


British medical research chief quits midterm p553

Early departure sparks fears over future of funding agency.

Geoff Brumfiel


Technology transfer on the table p555

Climate summit will seek ways to help developing nations build a low-carbon energy infrastructure.

Jeff Tollefson


Japan budget threat sparks backlash p557

Nobel laureates and leading researchers rally to protest at proposed spending cuts.

David Cyranoski


Dirty pigs beat disease p558

Immune system gets a boost from early exposure to bacteria.

Natasha Gilbert


Correction p558



News Features

Underwater acoustics: The neutrino and the whale p560

An underwater effort to detect subatomic particles has ended up detecting sperm whales instead. Nicola Nosengo reports on a partnership between marine biologists and particle physicists.


Behaviour: Flies on film p562

A unique collaboration is bringing automated screening to the study of fly behaviour and could change the way that machines see humans. Lizzie Buchen reports.




World view: A tale of two sciences p566

An innovative approach to reducing toxic-chemical use scrambles to stay alive as big science prospers, says Daniel Sarewitz.

Daniel Sarewitz




Carbon emissions: the poorest forest dwellers could suffer p567

Simon L. Lewis


Carbon emissions: dry forests may be easier to manage p567

Margaret Skutsch, Michael K. McCall & Jon C. Lovett


King Canute and the wisdom of forest conservation p567

Roger Short




No quick switch to low-carbon energy p568

In the first of two pieces on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Gert Jan Kramer and Martin Haigh analyse historic growth in energy systems to explain why deploying alternative technologies will be a long haul.

Gert Jan Kramer & Martin Haigh


Let the global technology race begin p570

In the second of two pieces on decarbonization, Isabel Galiana and Christopher Green argue that fostering a technology revolution, not setting emissions targets, is the key to stabilizing the climate.

Isabel Galiana & Christopher Green



Books and Arts

Freezes, floes and the future p572

The story of Earth's glaciers and ice caps is key to understanding climate science, but this kaleidoscopic account lacks a strong narrative, argues Johannes Oerlemans.

Johannes Oerlemans reviews A World Without Ice by Henry Pollack


Gail Wight, artist of science p573

Marc Weidenbaum reviews Restless Dust by Gail Wight


The Internet of the ancient world p574

Josie Glausiusz reviews Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World



News and Views

Plant biology: Signal advance for abscisic acid p575

The hunt for the receptor for abscisic acid, initially marked by false starts and lingering doubts, has met with success. Converging studies now reveal the details of how this plant hormone transmits its message.

Laura B. Sheard & Ning Zheng


See also: Editor's summary

Biological chemistry: Dehydrated but unharmed p576

The weakest interactions of protein complexes are thought to be lost when such assemblies are removed from their natural, watery environments. Not so, reveals a study in the vacuum chamber of a mass spectrometer.

Justin L. P. Benesch & Carol V. Robinson


50 & 100 years ago p577


Astrophysics: Different stellar demise p579

A decades-old theory of stellar evolution — that the most massive stars end their life in a peculiar type of explosion termed a pair-instability supernova — finally seems to have been confirmed by observations.

Norbert Langer


See also: Editor's summary

Neuroscience: Unbearable lightness of touch p580

Following inflammation or nerve injury, stimuli that are normally perceived as innocuous can evoke persistent pain. A population of neurons that contributes to this syndrome has now been identified.

Liam J. Drew & Amy B. MacDermott


See also: Editor's summary

Structural biology: Steps in the right direction p581

The ring-shaped helicase enzyme Rho moves along RNA using ATP as an energy source. Coordinating ATP hydrolysis with nucleic-acid binding seems to determine the direction and mechanism of helicase movement.

Smita S. Patel


Atomic physics: Neutral atoms put in charge p584

An elegant experiment shows that atoms subjected to a pair of laser beams can behave like electrons in a magnetic field, as demonstrated by the appearance of quantized vortices in a neutral superfluid.

Martin Zwierlein


See also: Editor's summary

Cell biology: Stairway to the proteasome p585

The study of fast and intricate enzyme reactions requires methods that have the speed and sophistication to match. Such an approach reveals the way in which proteins are tagged with ubiquitin for destruction.

Malavika Raman & J. Wade Harper


See also: Editor's summary



Forcing cells to change lineages p587

Thomas Graf & Tariq Enver


See also: Editor's summary



Direct cell reprogramming is a stochastic process amenable to acceleration p595

Overexpression of certain transcription factors can reprogram somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells; however, only a minority of donor somatic cells can be reprogrammed to pluripotency. Here, this reprogramming is shown to be a continuous stochastic process where almost all mouse donor cells eventually give rise to iPS cells on continued growth and transcription factor expression; changing certain parameters results in accelerated iPS cell formation.

Jacob Hanna, Krishanu Saha, Bernardo Pando, Jeroen van Zon, Christopher J. Lengner, Menno P. Creyghton, Alexander van Oudenaarden & Rudolf Jaenisch


See also: Editor's summary

A gate–latch–lock mechanism for hormone signalling by abscisic acid receptors p602

The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is a regulator of plant growth, development and responses to environmental stresses. Recently, the PYR/PYL/RCAR family of START proteins was found to bind ABA and mediate inactivation of downstream effectors. The crystal structures of apo and ABA-bound receptors as well as a ternary PYL2–ABA–PP2C complex is now reported and analysed, revealing a gate–latch–lock mechanism underlying ABA signalling.

Karsten Melcher, Ley-Moy Ng, X. Edward Zhou, Fen-Fen Soon, Yong Xu, Kelly M. Suino-Powell, Sang-Youl Park, Joshua J. Weiner, Hiroaki Fujii, Viswanathan Chinnusamy, Amanda Kovach, Jun Li, Yonghong Wang, Jiayang Li, Francis C. Peterson, Davin R. Jensen, Eu-Leong Yong, Brian F. Volkman, Sean R. Cutler, Jian-Kang Zhu & H. Eric Xu


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Sheard & Zheng

Structural basis of abscisic acid signalling p609

The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is a regulator of plant growth, development and responses to environmental stresses. Within plants, the PYR/PYL/RCAR family of START proteins receives ABA to inhibit the phosphatase activity of the group-A protein phophatases 2C (PP2Cs). Here, the crystal structures of ABA bound to its receptor PYL1 and a complex formed between ABA, PYL1 and the PP2C protein ABI1 are presented, shedding light on the structural basis of ABA signalling.

Ken-ichi Miyazono, Takuya Miyakawa, Yoriko Sawano, Keiko Kubota, Hee-Jin Kang, Atsuko Asano, Yumiko Miyauchi, Mihoko Takahashi, Yuehua Zhi, Yasunari Fujita, Takuya Yoshida, Ken-Suke Kodaira, Kazuko Yamaguchi-Shinozaki & Masaru Tanokura


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Sheard & Zheng

Detection of sequential polyubiquitylation on a millisecond timescale p615

Conjugation of ubiquitin chains onto proteins is an important post-translational modification that regulates the stability, localization and activity of substrate proteins. A series of enzymes known as E1, E2 and E3 mediate assembly of ubiquitin chains but the pathway remains unclear. Theoretical and experimental methodologies are now introduced to study the formation of ubiquitin chains at millisecond time resolution, demonstrating that substrate polyubiquitylation proceeds sequentially.

Nathan W. Pierce, Gary Kleiger, Shu-ou Shan & Raymond J. Deshaies


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Raman & Harper



Extreme particle acceleration in the microquasar Cygnus X-3 p620

Super-massive black holes in active galaxies can accelerate particles to relativistic energies, producing jets with associated gamma-ray emission. Galactic 'microquasars' also produce relativistic jets; however, apart from an isolated event detected in Cygnus X-1, there has hitherto been no systematic evidence for the acceleration of particles to gigaelectronvolt or higher energies in a microquasar. Here, a report of four gamma-ray flares with energies above 100 MeV from the microquasar Cygnus X-3 illuminates this important problem.

M. Tavani, A. Bulgarelli, G. Piano, S. Sabatini, E. Striani, Y. Evangelista, A. Trois, G. Pooley, S. Trushkin, N. A. Nizhelskij, M. McCollough, K. I. I. Koljonen, G. Pucella, A. Giuliani, A. W. Chen, E. Costa, V. Vittorini, M. Trifoglio, F. Gianotti, A. Argan, G. Barbiellini, P. Caraveo, P. W. Cattaneo, V. Cocco, T. Contessi, F. D'Ammando, E. Del Monte, G. De Paris, G. Di Cocco, G. Di Persio, I. Donnarumma, M. Feroci, A. Ferrari, F. Fuschino, M. Galli, C. Labanti, I. Lapshov, F. Lazzarotto, P. Lipari, F. Longo, E. Mattaini, M. Marisaldi, M. Mastropietro, A. Mauri, S. Mereghetti, E. Morelli, A. Morselli, L. Pacciani, A. Pellizzoni, F. Perotti, P. Picozza, M. Pilia, M. Prest, M. Rapisarda, A. Rappoldi, E. Rossi, A. Rubini, E. Scalise, P. Soffitta, E. Vallazza, S. Vercellone, A. Zambra, D. Zanello, C. Pittori, F. Verrecchia, P. Giommi, S. Colafrancesco, P. Santolamazza, A. Antonelli & L. Salotti


See also: Editor's summary

Supernova 2007bi as a pair-instability explosion p624

Extremely massive stars with initial masses of more than 140 solar masses end their lives when pressure-supporting photons turn into electron–positron pairs, leading to a violent contraction that triggers a nuclear explosion, unbinding the star in a pair-instability supernova. Here, the mass of the exploding core of supernova SN 2007bi is estimated at around 100 solar masses, in which case theory unambiguously predicts a pair-instability supernova. Further observations are well fitted by models of pair-instability supernovae.

A. Gal-Yam, P. Mazzali, E. O. Ofek, P. E. Nugent, S. R. Kulkarni, M. M. Kasliwal, R. M. Quimby, A. V. Filippenko, S. B. Cenko, R. Chornock, R. Waldman, D. Kasen, M. Sullivan, E. C. Beshore, A. J. Drake, R. C. Thomas, J. S. Bloom, D. Poznanski, A. A. Miller, R. J. Foley, J. M. Silverman, I. Arcavi, R. S. Ellis & J. Deng


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Langer

Synthetic magnetic fields for ultracold neutral atoms p628

Atomic Bose–Einstein condensates can be used to study many-body phenomena that occur in more complex material systems; however, the charge neutrality of these systems prevents intriguing phenomena that occur for charged particles in a magnetic field. Rotation can be used to create a synthetic magnetic field, but such fields are of limited strength. An optically synthesized magnetic field for ultracold neutral atoms that is not subject to the limitations of rotating systems is now experimentally realized.

Y.-J. Lin, R. L. Compton, K. Jiménez-García, J. V. Porto & I. B. Spielman


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Zwierlein

Controlling photonic structures using optical forces p633

Optical forces can be used to manipulate small objects; for instance, in optical tweezers. However, it is challenging to manipulate the optical response of photonic structures using optical forces because of the large forces that are required to induce appreciable changes in the geometry of the structure. Here, a resonant structure made of silicon nitride is demonstrated whose optical response can be efficiently statically controlled using relatively weak attractive and repulsive optical forces.

Gustavo S. Wiederhecker, Long Chen, Alexander Gondarenko & Michal Lipson


See also: Editor's summary

Half-precessional dynamics of monsoon rainfall near the East African Equator p637

Extensive records exist with which to assess the relationship between external climate forcings — such as changes in insolation — and climate variability for middle and high latitudes, but records from equatorial regions are relatively few, especially from regions experiencing the passage of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. A continuous and well-resolved climate-proxy record of hydrological variability during the past 25,000 years from equatorial East Africa is now presented and analysed.

Dirk Verschuren, Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté, Jasper Moernaut, Iris Kristen, Maarten Blaauw, Maureen Fagot, Gerald H. Haug & CHALLACEA project members


See also: Editor's summary

Common dependence on stress for the two fundamental laws of statistical seismology p642

The Gutenberg–Richter relation and the Omori–Utsu law, both power laws, are two of the long-standing relationships of statistical seismology. Here, aftershock sequences are described according to the faulting style of their main shocks, showing that the time delay before the onset of the power-law aftershock decay rate is on average shorter for thrust main shocks than for normal fault earthquakes. These similar dependences on the faulting style indicate that both the fundamental power laws are governed by the state of stress.

Clément Narteau, Svetlana Byrdina, Peter Shebalin & Danijel Schorlemmer


See also: Editor's summary

Regulation of adaptive behaviour during fasting by hypothalamic Foxa2 p646

The lateral hypothalamic area is the 'feeding centre' in the brain. During fasting, the neuropeptides orexin and melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) are released in this area and stimulate food intake. The expression of orexin and MCH is now shown to be regulated by the transcription factor Foxa2, a downstream target of insulin signalling. The results show that Foxa2 can act as a metabolic sensor to integrate metabolic signals, adaptive behaviour and physiological responses.

Jose P. Silva, Ferdinand von Meyenn, Jessica Howell, Bernard Thorens, Christian Wolfrum & Markus Stoffel


See also: Editor's summary

Injury-induced mechanical hypersensitivity requires C-low threshold mechanoreceptors p651

Despite the contribution of mechanical pain to the morbidity associated with inflammation and trauma, the primary sensory neurons that convey this sensation have not been identified. Using knockout mice, the loss of the low abundance vesicular glutamate transporter VGLUT3, expressed by a small subset of peripheral sensory neurons projecting to areas implicated in persistent pain caused by injury, is now shown to specifically impair mechanical pain sensation.

Rebecca P. Seal, Xidao Wang, Yun Guan, Srinivasa N. Raja, C. Jeffery Woodbury, Allan I. Basbaum & Robert H. Edwards


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Drew & MacDermott

Exceptional structured noncoding RNAs revealed by bacterial metagenome analysis p656

Existing DNA sequence databases carry only a tiny fraction of the total amount of DNA sequence space from bacterial species. Bioinformatics searches of genomic DNA from bacteria commonly identify new noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) such as riboswitches. Here, an updated computational pipeline is used to discover ncRNAs that rival the known large ribozymes in size and structural complexity; other such RNAs probably remain to be discovered.

Zasha Weinberg, Jonathan Perreault, Michelle M. Meyer & Ronald R. Breaker


See also: Editor's summary

In vitro reconstitution of an abscisic acid signalling pathway p660

The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is a regulator of plant growth, development and responses to environmental stresses. Although several proteins have been reported to function as ABA receptors and many more are known to be involved in ABA signalling, the identities of ABA receptors remain controversial and the mechanism of signalling unclear. ABA-mediated signalling is now reconstituted in vitro, defining a minimal set of core components of the pathway.

Hiroaki Fujii, Viswanathan Chinnusamy, Americo Rodrigues, Silvia Rubio, Regina Antoni, Sang-Youl Park, Sean R. Cutler, Jen Sheen, Pedro L. Rodriguez & Jian-Kang Zhu


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Sheard & Zheng

The abscisic acid receptor PYR1 in complex with abscisic acid p665

The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) has, among other things, a central role in coordinating the adaptive response in situations of decreased water availability. A family of intracellular ABA receptors, named PYR/PYL/RCAR, has recently been identified. Here, the crystal structure of Arabidopsis thaliana PYR1, which consists of a dimer in which one of the subunits is bound to ABA, is presented.

Julia Santiago, Florine Dupeux, Adam Round, Regina Antoni, Sang-Youl Park, Marc Jamin, Sean R. Cutler, Pedro Luis Rodriguez & José Antonio Márquez


See also: Editor's summary | News and Views by Sheard & Zheng

Hidden alternative structures of proline isomerase essential for catalysis p669

X-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy are two powerful tools to determine the three-dimensional structures and characterize the dynamic properties of proteins. The two methods are now combined to structurally unravel interconverting substrates of a human proline isomerase. Crystallographic approaches are used to define minor protein conformations and, combined with NMR analysis, to show how collective motions contribute to the catalytic power of an enzyme.

James S. Fraser, Michael W. Clarkson, Sheena C. Degnan, Renske Erion, Dorothee Kern & Tom Alber


See also: Editor's summary



Remote triggering of fault-strength changes on the San Andreas fault at Parkfield p674

Taka'aki Taira, Paul G. Silver, Fenglin Niu & Robert M. Nadeau


El Niño in a changing climate p674

Sang-Wook Yeh, Jong-Seong Kug, Boris Dewitte, Min-Ho Kwon, Ben P. Kirtman & Fei-Fei Jin


Integration of neuronal clones in the radial cortical columns by EphA and ephrin-A signalling p674

Masaaki Torii, Kazue Hashimoto-Torii, Pat Levitt & Pasko Rakic



Technology Features

Microscopy: Ever-increasing resolution p675

Overcoming the limitations of spatial and temporal resolution to image within a cell is no easy feat. Kelly Rae Chi examines the latest diffraction-busting technologies.

Kelly Rae Chi


Microscopy: Breaking the light barrier p676


Microscopy: Table of suppliers p679




Careers Q&A

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey p683

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey of the University of Texas-El Paso received the 2009 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans.

Karen Kaplan


Postdoc journal

Inspiration and satisfaction p683

As a boy, I dreamed of building a sled. Now I build research papers.

Sam Walcott


In Brief

More PhDs for women p683

Proportion of US women earning science and engineering doctorates rises.


Grants follow conference p683

Small grants will help synthetic-biology researchers delve into emerging field.


This time it's personalized p683

Non-profit, personalized medicine centre expects to hire some 350 researchers.


Careers and Recruitment

Building blocks p684

The growing field of synthetic biology is attracting hard-core scientists and amateurs alike. Bryn Nelson reports.

Bryn Nelson




Press '1' to begin p688

The art of conversation.

Nye Joell Hardy


Extra navigation

  • Japanese table of contents