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Volume 456 Issue 7220, 20 November 2008

Darwin 200: Beyond the origin February 2009 sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and November 2009 the 150th anniversary of the publication of his great work, On the Origin of Species. In the intervening two centuries, no single scientist has matched Darwin’s impact on the sciences, politics, religion, philosophy and art. This issue of Nature [see Introduction page 295; Editorial, p. 281] brings together news, research and analysis of Darwin, his life, his science and his legacy. Darwin saw the eye — so complex and seemingly useless with any of its components part-formed — as an obstacle to the acceptance of natural selection. Today we know it as one of evolution’s crowning glories — celebrated with a fold-out pictorial feature [p. 304] and current research [p. 395] that refers right back to the ‘protoeyes’ hypothesized by Darwin. In later writings (Descent of Man ,1871), Darwin touched on a topic that still divides evolutionary biologists — group selection. Does natural selection work for individuals against the interests of the group? Or is such thinking a historical mistake? We report on the debate and why it is important [p. 296], and review a ‘landmark book’ on the superorgansims of the insect world, where the group looms large [p. 320]. Extinction comes with the evolutionary territory. But is it for ever? With the publication of the genome sequence of the long-gone woolly mammoth [pp. 387, 330], some researchers are even claiming that mammoths will one day be recreated [News Feature p. 310]. Biologists tend to see evolved living systems as finely tuned machines, prone to failure if one component is faulty. But, as Tanguy Chouard reveals, this is not what happens in the real world [News Feature p. 300]. Plenty for biologists to celebrate and plenty of places to do it: we have trawled the world for events commemorating Darwin’s life and works [p. 322] and trawled the publishers’ lists for books doing the same [Books & Arts p. 323]. Not quite everybody will be in celebratory mood. The scientists we spoke to mostly are [Commentary p, 317], but past celebrations have had to tread carefully [Essay p. 324]. The Darwin-related content from this issue — and extra online-only material — can be accessed via: Cover graphic: Jonathan Williams


  • Editorial |

    This issue of Nature anticipates next year's bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of On The Origin of Species. We begin here with a look 50 years into the future.

  • Editorial |

    European scientists who support neuroscience research on primates should tell their politicians why.

  • Editorial |

    In the changed political climate, US agencies can provide a new kind of leadership.

Research Highlights

Journal Club


News in Brief


News in Brief

News Feature

  • News Feature |

    You might think that once evolution has found one way to get something done, it will stick with it. But similar physical forms can hide radically different wiring, finds Tanguy Chouard.

    • Tanguy Chouard
  • News Feature |

    Evolution assumes that extinction is forever. Maybe not. Henry Nicholls asks what it would take to bring the woolly mammoth back from the dead.

    • Henry Nicholls



  • Commentary |

    A new path for evolution? A truce in the culture wars? Here's what a selection of readers told Nature they expect from Darwin 200.

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    A landmark book documents how social insects form highly successful colonies that mimic a single organism, explains Manfred Milinski.

    • Manfred Milinski
  • Books & Arts |

    The theory of evolution challenges artists and philosophers as much as scientists. Joanne Baker rounds up the many forthcoming events worldwide that examine Darwin's life, his work and reactions to it.

    • Joanne Baker


  • Essay |

    Anniversaries of Charles Darwin's life and work have been used to rewrite and re-energize his theory of natural selection. Janet Browne tracks a century of Darwinian celebrations.

    • Janet Browne
  • Essay |

    Generosity and solidarity towards one's own may have emerged only in combination with hostility towards outsiders, says Samuel Bowles.

    • Samuel Bowles

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Both astrophysicists and particle physicists are in on the hunt for the elusive dark matter that is thought to pervade the Universe. A high-altitude balloon-borne experiment offers the latest hints as to what it could be.

    • Yousaf M. Butt
  • News & Views |

    Reconstruction of most of the genome sequence of the woolly mammoth illustrates how such investigations will pave the way for a deeper understanding of the biology and evolution of extinct species.

    • Michael Hofreiter
  • News & Views |

    Short episodes of warming and cooling occurred throughout the last glaciation. An innovative modelling study indicates that ocean-circulation changes produced much of the causative variation in greenhouse gases.

    • Thomas F. Stocker
    • Adrian Schilt
  • News & Views |

    How cells build their internal structures remains one of the central mysteries in cell biology. If the cell nucleus is anything to go by, stochastic assembly and self-organization seem to be key.

    • Tom Misteli
  • News & Views |

    Squares may be unfashionable, but for electronic circuitry no other shape will do. A method for making square arrays of polymeric nanoparticles could herald the next generation of miniature silicon chips.

    • Anthony J. Ryan
  • News & Views |

    Physiological studies in mice demonstrate a surprising role for a kidney protein related to the rhesus factor of red blood cells. Similar research would aid further annotation of mammalian genomes.

    • Mark A. Knepper
  • News & Views |

    Protein-digesting enzymes are kept on a tight leash to stop them from wantonly attacking targets. Two crystal structures show how an inhibitory protein domain gags one such enzyme without being chewed up itself.

    • Ronald L. Mellgren


  • Article |

    It is shown that mice lacking the renal Rhcg factor have impaired ammonium excretion, thereby refuting the long-standing notion that rapid transepithelial transport of non-ionic ammonia occurs solely by lipid phase diffusion. In addition, it is shown that Rhcg is required for epididymal fluid homeostasis with clear consequences for male fertility.

    • Sophie Biver
    • Hendrica Belge
    • Anna Maria Marini
  • Article |

    It is now established that pluripotent adult germline stem cells (haGSCs) are derived from spermatogonial cells of adult human testis and proposed that it may be possible to derive haGSCs from testicular biopsies to generate cells for individual cell-based therapy.

    • Sabine Conrad
    • Markus Renninger
    • Thomas Skutella
  • Article |

    A four-stranded DNA intermediate, known as a Holliday junction, is formed during meiosis and DNA repair. This structure covalently links two DNA molecules. The product of the RuvC gene in Escherichia coli was shown to be the bacterial Holliday junction resolvase. The mammalian enzyme has remained refractory to identification until now, where GEN1 is identified as the human resolvase.

    • Stephen C. Y. Ip
    • Ulrich Rass
    • Stephen C. West


  • Letter |

    This paper reports an excess of galactic cosmic-ray electrons at energies of 300-800 GeV, which indicates a nearby source of energetic electrons. Such a source could be an unseen astrophysical object that accelerates electrons to those energies, or the electrons could arise from the annihilation of dark matter.

    • J. Chang
    • J. H. Adams
    • V. I. Zatsepin
  • Letter |

    In most superconductors, the pairing-up of electrons responsible for resistance-less conduction is driven by vibrations of the solid's crystal lattice. But other materials exist in which the attractive interaction responsible for binding electrons is believed to have a very different origin: quantum fluctuations of spin or charge. This paper identifies an unusually 'violent' generalization of such pairing mechanisms, in which these spin and charge instabilities combine forces.

    • T. Park
    • V. A. Sidorov
    • J. D. Thompson
  • Letter |

    In this paper, the crystal structure and stacking fault density of semiconducting nanowires composed of the same material are controlled by doping, leading to twinning superlattices. Periodic arrays of rotational dislocations lead to crystal heterostructures in indium phosphide and gallium phosphide nanowires.

    • Rienk E. Algra
    • Marcel A. Verheijen
    • Erik P. A. M. Bakkers
  • Letter |

    This paper presents simulations with a coupled model of glacial climate and biogeochemical cycles, forced only with changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. It is found that variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on millennial time scales are dominated by slow changes in the deep ocean inventory of biologically-sequestered carbon and are correlated to Antarctic temperature and Southern Ocean stratification. The results suggest that ocean circulation changes were the primary mechanism that drove glacial fluctuations in carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide fluctuations on millennial time scales.

    • Andreas Schmittner
    • Eric D. Galbraith
  • Letter |

    This study presents optical geodetic observations to constrain the sources responsible for long-period volcanic earthquakes, which are coincident with frequent explosive eruptions at Santiaguito Volcano, Guatemala. It is found that acceleration in deformation of the volcanic dome, extracted from the high-resolution optical image processing, is coincident with recorded long-period seismic sources. On the basis of these observations, abrupt mass shift of solidified domes, conduit magma or magma pads seem to be part of the mechanism responsible for generating long-period earthquakes at silicic volcanic systems.

    • Jeffrey B. Johnson
    • Jonathan M. Lees
    • Nick Varley
  • Letter |

    Most bilaterian animals have a through gut and it is commonly believed that in the transition from radial to bilaterial symmetry, both openings evolved simultaneously by the partial, lateral closure of a slit-like blastopore. This idea is called into question by work on acoel flatworms, primitive bilaterians that have a mouth but no anus. In studies of the acoel Convolutriloba longifissura, molecular markers are used to show that the acoel's mouth does indeed correspond with a mouth, and that molecular markers characteristic of the hind end of the gut cluster around the (blind) end of the body, in a posterior domain associated with a gonopore.

    • Andreas Hejnol
    • Mark Q. Martindale
  • Letter |

    This is the first report of the sequencing of the nearly complete nuclear genome of an extinct animal, the woolly mammoth. 4.1 billion bases of high quality sequence from several mammoth species are reported, including 3.3 billion bases from the woolly mammoth. Nuclear-genome sequencing of extinct species and its comparison with the extant relatives (in this case African elephant) provide insights into elephantid evolution and population differences.

    • Webb Miller
    • Daniela I. Drautz
    • Stephan C. Schuster
  • Letter |

    It was thought that attentional effects arise in the thalamus but for the visual system, evidence at the single cell level has been rare. This paper demonstrates spatial attentional modulation in primate lateral geniculate nucleus as well as opposing effects in the adjacent thalamic reticular nucleus, which makes inhibitory connections onto it.

    • Kerry McAlonan
    • James Cavanaugh
    • Robert H. Wurtz
  • Letter |

    The earliest events of embryogenesis are controlled by maternal gene products in the oocyte, but at some point after fertilization the zygotic genome becomes activated. Many of the early transcribed genes in Drosophila share a cis-regulatory heptamer motif. This paper reports that the zinc-finger protein, Zelda, binds specifically to these sites, and is capable of activating transcription in transient transfection assays.

    • Hsiao-Lan Liang
    • Chung-Yi Nien
    • Christine Rushlow
  • Letter |

    The 3.0 Å structure of Ca2+-bound m-calpain in complex with the first calpastatin repeat is solved, revealing the mechanism of the exclusive specificity. The structure highlights the complexity of calpain activation by Ca2+, illustrating key residues in a peripheral domain that serve to stabilize the protease core after Ca2+-binding.

    • Tudor Moldoveanu
    • Kalle Gehring
    • Douglas R. Green
  • Letter |

    The 2.4 Å structure of the Ca2+-bound calpain 2 heterodimer bound to one of the four inhibitory domains of calpastatin. Calpastatin seems to inhibit calpain by occupying both the primed and unprimed sides of the active site cleft. This crystal structure also reveals the conformational changes that calpain undergoes upon binding calcium, which include opening of the active site cleft and movement of the domains relative to each other to produce a more compact enzyme.

    • Rachel A. Hanna
    • Robert L. Campbell
    • Peter L. Davies
  • Letter |

    P-type ATPases are molecular machines that use energy derived from ATP hydrolysis to pump ions across membranes. Recent work on the Na+, K+ ATPase has identified a pathway for ions from the extracellular side of the protein to its ion binding sites. This paper employs the marine toxin palytoxin to 'hold open' the gates of the pump, allowing direct measurements of ion flow and defines the entire route for ions from one side of the membrane to the other.

    • Ayako Takeuchi
    • Nicolás Reyes
    • David C. Gadsby



Networks and Support

Career View

  • Career View |

    As I spoke I thought 'Who's giving this presentation?'

    • Zachary Lippman



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