Volume 453 Issue 7198, 19 June 2008

This issue sees the publication of the draft genome sequence of an animal that has been studied by biologists for many years as a model for a primitive chordate. The amphioxus or lancelet is a small worm-like creature usually to be found buried in sand on the sea floor. Comparative analysis of the genome of the Florida lancelet, Branchiostoma floridae, reveals 17 ancestral chordate linkage groups conserved in the modern amphioxus and vertebrate genomes despite more than half a billion years of independent evolution. From this it possible to make a virtual reconstruction of the 17 chromosomes of the last common vertebrate ancestor. This reconstruction shows that as suspected, two rounds of whole genome duplication have occurred during evolution of the jawed vertebrate lineage. And it illuminates the murky relationships between the three chordate groups, the tunicates, lancelets and vertebrates.


  • Editorial |

    Scientific misconduct may be more prevalent than most researchers would like to admit. The solution needs to be wide-ranging yet nuanced.

  • Editorial |

    A renewed push for scientific research into weather-modification technologies is long overdue.

  • Editorial |

    ... but the European Research Council's success is undermined by practices beyond its control.

Research Highlights

Journal Club


News in Brief


News in Brief

  • News in Brief |

    Scribbles on the margins of science.


News in Brief

News Feature

  • News Feature |

    Is it really possible to stop rain, invoke lightning from the heavens or otherwise manipulate the weather? Jane Qiu and Daniel Cressey report on the once-scorned notion of weather modification.

    • Jane Qiu
    •  & Daniel Cressey
  • News Feature |

    As the first grants from the European Research Council begin to come through, Geoff Brumfiel investigates whether the new system is meeting its goals.

    • Geoff Brumfiel



  • Commentary |

    A survey suggests that many research misconduct incidents in the United States go unreported to the Office of Research Integrity. Sandra L. Titus, James A. Wells and Lawrence J. Rhoades say it's time to change that.

    • Sandra L. Titus
    • , James A. Wells
    •  & Lawrence J. Rhoades

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    A joint exploration of early modern physics and the surreal art movement shows these twentieth-century revolutions had more in common than we thought, explains Philip Ball.

    • Philip Ball
  • Books & Arts |

    Actor Alan Alda, who starred in the television series M*A*S*H and now hosts Scientific American Frontiers on US network PBS, is fascinated with physics. At last month's World Science Festival in New York he led a panel discussing the quantum world, portrayed Richard Feynman in the play QED, and presented Dear Albert, his new play drawn from Albert Einstein's letters.

    • Jascha Hoffman


  • Essay |

    Statistical analysis can inform the history of music, classification technologies, and our understanding of the act of composition itself, argues Damián Zanette.

    • Damián Zanette
  • Essay |

    Believed to be the world's first printed document, the Phaistos Disc was unearthed 100 years ago. Andrew Robinson explains why this remarkable object remains undeciphered.

    • Andrew Robinson

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Following multiple physiological variables or cell types in vivo requires specific probes. Microfabricated magnetic particles could produce such tuneable contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging.

    • Richard Bowtell
  • News & Views |

    Paralysed patients would benefit if their thoughts could become everyday actions. The demonstration that monkeys can use brain activity for precise control of an arm-like robot is a step towards that end.

    • John F. Kalaska
  • News & Views |

    Transformation of normal cells into cancer cells entails concerted changes in the expression of many genes. Identifying which of those genes are crucial will provide insight into the mechanisms underlying malignancy.

    • Ji Luo
    •  & Stephen J. Elledge
  • News & Views |

    At the interface between two compounds, physical properties can emerge that neither material displays on its own. A striking example of such an effect occurs at the border between two organic molecular crystals.

    • Liesbeth Venema
  • News & Views |

    Mutations in collagen lead to hereditary disorders such as brittle-bone disease. Peptide models for aberrant collagens are beginning to clarify how these amino-acid replacements lead to clinical problems.

    • Barbara Brodsky
    •  & Jean Baum
  • News & Views |

    The genome sequence of a species of amphioxus, an iconic organism in the history of evolutionary biology, opens up a fresh vista on the comparative investigation of chordates and vertebrates.

    • Henry Gee
  • News & Views |

    Different material options for high-temperature superconductivity— conduction of electricity with little or no resistance at 'practical' temperatures — have arrived. Iron compounds are the latest thing.

    • Paul M. Grant


News & Views


Progress Article

Review Article


  • Article |

    A family of magnetic microstructures that should enable similar multiplexing capabilities in the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of biological samples have been developed. It is shown that careful control of the geometry of these magnetic particles yields well-defined spectral signatures in the radio-frequency spectrum used for MRI, effectively giving them characteristic 'colours' that can be readily distinguished from one another.

    • Gary Zabow
    • , Stephen Dodd
    • , John Moreland
    •  & Alan Koretsky
  • Article | | Open Access

    • Nicholas H. Putnam
    • , Thomas Butts
    • , David E. K. Ferrier
    • , Rebecca F. Furlong
    • , Uffe Hellsten
    • , Takeshi Kawashima
    • , Marc Robinson-Rechavi
    • , Eiichi Shoguchi
    • , Astrid Terry
    • , Jr-Kai Yu
    • , E`lia Benito-Gutiérrez
    • , Inna Dubchak
    • , Jordi Garcia-Fernàndez
    • , Jeremy J. Gibson-Brown
    • , Igor V. Grigoriev
    • , Amy C. Horton
    • , Pieter J. de Jong
    • , Jerzy Jurka
    • , Vladimir V. Kapitonov
    • , Yuji Kohara
    • , Yoko Kuroki
    • , Erika Lindquist
    • , Susan Lucas
    • , Kazutoyo Osoegawa
    • , Len A. Pennacchio
    • , Asaf A. Salamov
    • , Yutaka Satou
    • , Tatjana Sauka-Spengler
    • , Jeremy Schmutz
    • , Tadasu Shin-I
    • , Atsushi Toyoda
    • , Marianne Bronner-Fraser
    • , Asao Fujiyama
    • , Linda Z. Holland
    • , Peter W. H. Holland
    • , Nori Satoh
    •  & Daniel S. Rokhsar
  • Article |

    The PML tumour suppressor gene is involved in the development of some forms of leukaemia. New research has identified a role for PML in the quiescence and maintenance of haematopoietic stem cells and of leukaemia-initiating cells. PML can be targeted by arsenic trioxide and was shown to eliminate leukaemia-initiating cells, supporting its use as an anti-leukemia therapy.

    • Keisuke Ito
    • , Rosa Bernardi
    • , Alessandro Morotti
    • , Sahoko Matsuoka
    • , Giuseppe Saglio
    • , Yasuo Ikeda
    • , Jacalyn Rosenblatt
    • , David E. Avigan
    • , Julie Teruya-Feldstein
    •  & Pier Paolo Pandolfi


  • Letter |

    Two stars born at the same time, from the same natal material, and with the same mass are 'identical twins', and as such might be expected to possess identical physical attributes. But this paper reports that a pair of twin stars have surface temperatures that differ by 300 K and luminosities that differ by 50 per cent. These surprising dissimilarities suggest that one of the twins may have been delayed by several hundred thousand years in its formation relative to its sibling.

    • Keivan G. Stassun
    • , Robert D. Mathieu
    • , Phillip A. Cargile
    • , Alicia N. Aarnio
    • , Eric Stempels
    •  & Aaron Geller
  • Letter |

    Planetary aurorae are formed by energetic charged particles streaming along the planet's magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere from the surrounding space environment. At Saturn only the main auroral oval has been observed, but this paper reports the discovery of a secondary oval, 25 per cent as bright as the main oval.

    • Tom Stallard
    • , Steve Miller
    • , Henrik Melin
    • , Makenzie Lystrup
    • , Stan W. H. Cowley
    • , Emma J. Bunce
    • , Nicholas Achilleos
    •  & Michele Dougherty
  • Letter |

    Placing silicon under strain can enhance the ease with which the charge carriers move through the semiconductor, so strain is now engineered into the latest silicon devices. A new approach that incorporates two well known techniques, moiré interferometry and electron holography, to yield a method that combines high spatial resolution and precision with a large field of view has been developed, thus overcoming almost all of the limitations of existing techniques for strain measurement.

    • Martin Hÿtch
    • , Florent Houdellier
    • , Florian Hüe
    •  & Etienne Snoeck
  • Letter |

    This paper reports improved estimates of near-global ocean heat content and thermal expansion for the upper ocean from 1950–2003, applying corrections to reduce systematic biases in the most common ocean temperature observations. The ocean warming and thermal expansion trends for 1961–2003 are about 50 per cent larger than earlier estimates but about 40 per cent smaller for 1993–2003, consistent with the recognition that previously estimated rates for the 1990s were biased by instrumental errors.

    • Catia M. Domingues
    • , John A. Church
    • , Neil J. White
    • , Peter J. Gleckler
    • , Susan E. Wijffels
    • , Paul M. Barker
    •  & Jeff R. Dunn
  • Letter |

    Plant stem cell pools are established during embryogenesis. Auxin is required for root-stem specification, whereas the role of cytokinin remains unclear. This study demonstrates that cytokinin is expressed during early embryogenesis and that an interplay between auxin and cytokinin signalling pathways is critical for specifying the first root stem cell niche.

    • Bruno Müller
    •  & Jen Sheen
  • Letter |

    A system where monkeys use their motor cortical activity to control a robotic arm in a real-time self-feeding task, showing a significantly greater sophisitication of control than in previous studies, is demonstrated. This work could be important for the development of more practical neuro-prosthetic devices in the future.

    • Meel Velliste
    • , Sagi Perel
    • , M. Chance Spalding
    • , Andrew S. Whitford
    •  & Andrew B. Schwartz
  • Letter |

    Vocal communication requires both hearing external stimuli, and keeping track of one's own vocalizations during speech. In several species, including humans, auditory neurons are suppressed during vocalization, but the function of this was unclear. In marmosets, neurons in primary auditory cortex are more sensitive to perturbations in vocal feedback despite the general suppression, a possible mechanism for active monitoring of self-generated sounds.

    • Steven J. Eliades
    •  & Xiaoqin Wang
  • Letter |

    Polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases are a class of dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disorders caused by the expansion of a CAG repeat encoding glutamine within the coding region of the respective genes. PolyQ has been thought to cause neurodegeneration due to protein toxicity. In contrast, pathogenesis in other repeat diseases, such as myotonic dystrophy, is thought to result from the expression of toxic RNA repeats. Here evidence is provided that pathogenesis caused by ataxin-3, which contains CAG repeats, also involves an RNA-mediated component.

    • Ling-Bo Li
    • , Zhenming Yu
    • , Xiuyin Teng
    •  & Nancy M. Bonini
  • Letter |

    A new study identifies a list of genes synergistically regulated by the Ras oncogene and loss of the p53 tumour suppressor gene. A high proportion of these genes are essential for tumour formation in vivo, whereas only very few of the genes regulated by only either Ras or p53 are important. This establishes a new approach to finding genes important in tumourigenesis that may also represent novel targets for tumour therapy.

    • Helene R. McMurray
    • , Erik R. Sampson
    • , George Compitello
    • , Conan Kinsey
    • , Laurel Newman
    • , Bradley Smith
    • , Shaw-Ree Chen
    • , Lev Klebanov
    • , Peter Salzman
    • , Andrei Yakovlev
    •  & Hartmut Land
  • Letter |

    It is shown that mice lacking the enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) develop a pre-eclampsia-like syndrome which can be ameliorated by 2-methoxyestradiol (2-ME), which is produced by COMT. Although this mouse model doesn't completely recapitulate pre-eclampsia seen in women, it is found that the levels of COMT and 2-ME are diminished in women with pre-eclampsia, and 2-ME might therefore be of therapeutic value.

    • Keizo Kanasaki
    • , Kristin Palmsten
    • , Hikaru Sugimoto
    • , Shakil Ahmad
    • , Yuki Hamano
    • , Liang Xie
    • , Samuel Parry
    • , Hellmut G. Augustin
    • , Vincent H. Gattone
    • , Judah Folkman
    • , Jerome F. Strauss
    •  & Raghu Kalluri
  • Letter |

    The mechanism by which the widely used vaccine adjuvant alum acts on the immune system has been unclear to-date. This paper shows that alum-mediated stimulation of the adaptive immune response requires activation of the Nalp3 inflammasome in antigen presenting cells.

    • Stephanie C. Eisenbarth
    • , Oscar R. Colegio
    • , William O’Connor
    • , Fayyaz S. Sutterwala
    •  & Richard A. Flavell
  • Letter |

    Caenorhabditis elegans (which haeme auxotrophs), are used to identify the proteins involved in haeme homeostasis. It is shown that the proteins of HRG-1 and its paralogue HRG-4 are essential for haeme homeostasis, as they are novel transmembrane proteins residing in an intracellular department. Transient knockdown of hrg-1 in zebrafish led to hydrocephalus, yolk tube abnormalities, and defects in erythropoesis. The human and worm HRG proteins co-localize, and bind and transport haeme, showing there is evolutionary conservation of its function.

    • Abbhirami Rajagopal
    • , Anita U. Rao
    • , Julio Amigo
    • , Meng Tian
    • , Sanjeev K. Upadhyay
    • , Caitlin Hall
    • , Suji Uhm
    • , M. K. Mathew
    • , Mark D. Fleming
    • , Barry H. Paw
    • , Michael Krause
    •  & Iqbal Hamza
  • Letter |

    Aurora B is a kinase important for mitosis, and is shown to generate a spatial gradient of phosphorylated substrates in anaphase with the highest concentration at the spindle midzone. Generation of this gradient involves a microtubule-dependent mechanism of aurora B activation. The gradient is proposed to provide important spatial information during mitosis.

    • Brian G. Fuller
    • , Michael A. Lampson
    • , Emily A. Foley
    • , Sara Rosasco-Nitcher
    • , Kim V. Le
    • , Page Tobelmann
    • , David L. Brautigan
    • , P. Todd Stukenberg
    •  & Tarun M. Kapoor


  • Prospects |

    Navigating the grey areas of industry-academia interactions.

    • Gene Russo

Special Report

  • Special Report |

    Robin Mejia reports on the perils and opportunities of doing scientific work that is funded by private companies.

    • Robin Mejia



Networks and Support

Career View

  • Career View |

    Finding refuge in my science.

    • Jon Yearsley




  • Insight |

    Quantum coherence

    Improvements in techniques to manipulate light and matter are facilitating exciting applications of quantum mechanics. Scientists from diverse areas of research are now seeking to harness and exploit quantum coherence and entanglement for quantum simulations and quantum information processing.

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