Next week's news

    Your chance to tell us what you want to read, and why.

    Welcome to an ongoing experiment. In the article below you will find brief descriptions of three papers that have caught our interest at Nature. Next week, one of our reporters will report in more detail about the way the work in one of these papers was done, what the rest of the field thinks, what the implications are, and more. The question is: which of the three possibilities would you like us to investigate further? Tell us in the comments field.

    Last week you chose to hear more on a potential drug target for Alzheimer's disease; here's the resulting article.

    This week's choices are: volcanoes, bird song, and one weird microbe.

    One: Fire after ice

    The Vatnajökull ice cap in Iceland lost about a tenth of its mass during the twentieth century, causing the buoyant crust around its edges to rise up. Reduced pressure on the rocks at depth encourages them to melt, and thus increases the amount of magma to be found at depth.

    Carolina Pagli at the University of Leeds, UK, and Freysteinn Sigmundsson of the University of Iceland in Reykjavík calculate in Geophysical Review Letters that there’s enough magma involved for a fair-sized eruption every few decades. Is this potential for reasonably short-term volcanic responses to climate change an oddity of magma-rich Fire-and-Iceland, or a more general concern?

    Two: Out of the mouths of bird-babes

    The brain circuits that baby songbirds use when 'babbling' are not the same as those that look after the more controlled singing of adults, according to Michale Fee and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

    In a paper in Science they describe giving adult zebra finches a drug that stopped the high vocal centre — a brain region that enables birds to sing melodious ‘syllable’ sequences — from working. The birds reverted to the stereotypical babblings of one-month-old chicks within 20 minutes, but regained their adult singing ability when the drug wore off. Another brain region — the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the nidopallium — proved necessary for juvenile babbles but not for adult song.

    Three: A bacterium that packs in the genomes

    Species vary in the number of copies of their genome that they stash away. Humans keep two in most cells, salmon keep four, coastal redwoods keep six. And according to a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Esther Angert of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her colleagues, some bacteria go a bit further. A species of Epulopiscium that is found in the intestines of the unicornfish (Naso tonganus) seems to have tens of thousands of copies of its genome; the researchers have shown up 50,000–120,000 copies per cell of genes believed to occur only once in each copy of the genome. It can accommodate this much DNA because it is, by bacterial standards, big. But why does it bother?

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    Next week's news. Nature (2008) doi:10.1038/news.2008.793

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