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Volume 459 Issue 7245, 21 May 2009

In the cause of cramming more and more data onto optical storage devices, materials scientists have sought to add extra dimensions to recording media, literally. Now Zijlstra et al. have developed a five-dimensional optical recording technique with the potential to increase storage capacities by several orders of magnitude — a theoretical 1.6 terabytes capacity for a DVD-sized disk. [Cover image: Peter Zijlstra & James W. M. Chon]



  • Editorial |

    Funding agencies and universities should collaborate to make the most of women in research.

  • Editorial |

    New money must provide stimulus to get carbon capture and storage up and running.

Research Highlights

Journal Club


News in Brief

News Feature

  • News Feature |

    The incandescent light bulb is being phased out, but what will replace it? Stefano Tonzani investigates the technologies that are vying for our sockets.

    • Stefano Tonzani
  • News Feature |

    Like an alchemist of yore, Mike Russell is taking basic elements and trying to transform them — not into gold, but into the stirrings of life, John Whitfield reports.

    • John Whitfield



  • Commentary |

    The US government is doing well to communicate uncertainty over swine flu. It must also help the public to visualize what a bad pandemic might be like, says Peter M. Sandman.

    • Peter M. Sandman


  • Essay |

    As bodies piled up, the United States' response to the 'Spanish flu' was to tell the public that there was no cause for alarm. The authority figures who glossed over the truth lost their credibility, says John M. Barry.

    • John M. Barry

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    A detailed biography argues that the Nobel prizewinner's notorious reticence delayed experimentalists from discovering the antimatter that would confirm his elegant theory, explains Frank Close.

    • Frank Close
  • Books & Arts |

    Philip Parker of Britain's Royal Mail celebrates special stamps and his new set for the 250th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

    • Philip Parker
  • Books & Arts |

    A pioneer of interactive museum installations, Edwin Schlossberg lets young visitors experience science first hand, from launching a space shuttle to seeing the world through an animal's eyes. As his neuroscience-inspired paintings are shown this month in New York City, he explains how he applies cognitive science to harness children's curiosity.

    • Jascha Hoffman

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Many of nature's intricate nanostructures self-assemble from subunits. Efforts to mimic these assembly processes enter a new phase with a method to design and build three-dimensional DNA nanostructures.

    • Thomas H. LaBean
  • News & Views |

    Research at the frontier between computer science and physics illustrates the shortcomings of the reductionist approach to science, which explains macroscopic behaviour using microscopic principles.

    • P.-M. Binder
  • News & Views |

    Why do cells of the same population respond differently to external death-inducing stimuli? Individuality seems to originate from non-genetic differences in the levels and activation states of proteins.

    • Philippe Bastiaens
  • News & Views |

    Early in its history, Earth experienced a pounding from extraterrestrial impacts. But instead of sterilizing the planet, it allowed microbial life to persist, according to numerical models of Earth's crust.

    • Lynn J. Rothschild
  • News & Views |

    In many cancers, regulation of specific signalling molecules goes awry, affecting a host of other proteins and cellular processes. Proteomics is a useful systemic approach for identifying such extensive effects.

    • Paul H. Huang
    • Richard Marais
  • News & Views |

    The existing methods of creating genetically modified plants are inefficient and imprecise. Zinc-finger technology offers the prospect of opening up a swifter and more exact route for crop improvement.

    • Matthew H. Porteus

News and Views Q&A

  • News and Views Q&A |

    Obesity is a major health problem in developed countries and a growing one in the developing world. It increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver and some forms of cancer. A better understanding of the biological basis of obesity should aid its prevention and treatment.

    • Jeffrey M. Friedman



Review Article


  • Article |

    Mice deficient in the Polycomb repressor Bmi1 have a shortened lifespan and develop numerous abnormalities including defects in stem cell self-renewal and thymocyte maturation. Here it is demonstrated that cells derived from Bmi1−/− mice also show a marked elevation in the intracellular levels of reactive oxygen species, corresponding to the derepression of previously identified Polycomb target genes and sufficient to engage the DNA damage response pathway.

    • Jie Liu
    • Liu Cao
    • Toren Finkel
  • Article |

    In 1966, Frank Westheimer proposed that the large shift in the pKa of a key lysine residue (Lys 115) in the active site of the enzyme acetoacetate decarboxylase was because of the neighbouring charge of another lysine reside (Lys 116); this is said to be a classic example of enzymatic 'microenvironment effects'. Here, the X-ray crystal structure of acetoacetate decarboxylase is solved, revealing that the shift in pKa cannot be due to Lys 116 but is instead due to the presence of a long hydrophobic funnel near Lys 115.

    • Meng-Chiao Ho
    • Jean-François Ménétret
    • Karen N. Allen


  • Letter |

    Towards the end of their lives, stars like the Sun expand greatly to become red giant stars that oscillate. Such evolved stars could provide stringent tests of stellar theory through the analysis of radial and non-radial stellar oscillations. Here, the presence of such oscillations in more than 300 giant stars is reported, with mode lifetimes of some of the giants in the order of a month.

    • Joris De Ridder
    • Caroline Barban
    • Magali Deleuil
  • Letter |

    Many features of the Martian landscape are thought to have been formed by liquid water flow. However, several lines of evidence suggest that mean global temperatures on early Mars were well below the freezing point of pure water. Here, the modelling of freezing and evaporation of Martian fluids with a chemical composition resulting from the weathering of basalts—as reflected in the chemical compositions found at Mars landing sites—suggests that a significant fraction would remain in the liquid state at temperatures well below 273 K.

    • Alberto G. Fairén
    • Alfonso F. Davila
    • Christopher P. McKay
  • Letter |

    Although quantum phase transitions are attracting increasing attention as the conceptual link between conventional and exotic states of quantum matter—having been implicated, for example, in the properties of high-temperature superconductors—there are few model systems in which they can be studied and understood. Now it is revealed that placing simple elemental chromium under pressure suppresses its normal magnetic state and gives direct experimental access to the underlying quantum phase transition responsible for these changes.

    • R. Jaramillo
    • Yejun Feng
    • T. F. Rosenbaum
  • Letter |

    By exploiting not only the three spatial dimensions but also other ways to record information, it is theoretically possible to store much more onto an optical device such as a DVD than has hitherto been possible. Here, a five-dimensional optical recording technique using polarization of light and its wavelength as the two additional dimensions, is demonstrated. The method consists of using a substrate of gold nanorods immersed in polymer.

    • Peter Zijlstra
    • James W. M. Chon
    • Min Gu
  • Letter |

    DNA has proved to be a versatile building block in the creation of complex structures through self-assembly, exploiting the intermolecular forces between the components. Here, the arrangement of DNA helices on pleated strands which are then assembled into honeycomb-like three-dimensional structures, produces objects of unprecedented complexity.

    • Shawn M. Douglas
    • Hendrik Dietz
    • William M. Shih
  • Letter |

    Diverse Solar System materials indicate that a cataclysmic spike occurred in the number of impacts within the inner Solar System about 3.9 billion years ago. Here, numerical models probe the degree of thermal metamorphism there would have been during this period in the Earth's crust, and thus how habitable the near- and subsurface would have been for microbes; analysis shows no plausible scenario in which the habitable zone was fully sterilized.

    • Oleg Abramov
    • Stephen J. Mojzsis
  • Letter |

    The regulation of flowering is best understood in annual plants which flower only once in their lifetime, whereas the repeated cycles of growth and flowering in perennials have not been extensively studied. The identification and study of the perpetual flowering 1 mutant of the perennial Arabis alpina, now gives insight into the different mechanisms of flowering regulation in perennial and annual species, and suggests that patterns of chromatin modification may have a role.

    • Renhou Wang
    • Sara Farrona
    • Maria C. Albani
  • Letter |

    Noise in gene expression gives rise to cell-to-cell variability in protein concentrations and is increasingly recognized as a key source of non-genetic differences between cells. Through single cell imaging, it has now been possible to demonstrate that pre-existing differences in the levels of signalling proteins determine whether the addition of an external death signal will kill a cell or not—and how fast. This has implications for understanding 'fractional killing' of tumour cells after chemotherapy, in which some but not all tumour cells die.

    • Sabrina L. Spencer
    • Suzanne Gaudet
    • Peter K. Sorger
  • Letter |

    Interleukin-1β (IL-1β) is a key pro-inflammatory factor in innate antifungal immunity, but the mechanism by which the mammalian immune system regulates IL-1β production after fungal recognition is unclear. Here it is demonstrated that the tyrosine kinase Syk controls both pro-IL-1β synthesis and Nlrp3 inflammasome activation after cell stimulation with Candida albicans.

    • Olaf Gross
    • Hendrik Poeck
    • Jürgen Ruland
  • Letter |

    Genetic engineering in plants remains laborious and time consuming, with no precise genetic engineering methods comparable to those available in animal models. A new approach that relies on the use of designed zinc-finger nucleases is showcased here in maize, inducing herbicide tolerance that is stably inherited.

    • Vipula K. Shukla
    • Yannick Doyon
    • Fyodor D. Urnov
  • Letter |

    An efficient method for gene targeting in plants has been lacking until now, frustrating efforts to engineer crop plants. Here it is demonstrated that zinc-finger nucleases—enzymes engineered to create DNA double-strand breaks at specific loci—can be used for gene targeting, in this case inducing mutations that confer resistance to herbicides in tobacco plants.

    • Jeffrey A. Townsend
    • David A. Wright
    • Daniel F. Voytas
  • Letter |

    The sodium–potassium ATPase is an ATP-powered ion pump that creates concentration gradients for sodium and potassium ions across the plasma membrane of animal cells, a process essential, for example, in the action potentials of nerve cells. Here the crystal structure of the sodium–potassium pump in the shark, which is highly homologous to the human pump, is described.

    • Takehiro Shinoda
    • Haruo Ogawa
    • Chikashi Toyoshima
  • Letter |

    The acetylcholine receptor, which mediates rapid synaptic transmission, possesses two agonist binding sites, the occupation of which leads to channel opening; however, the precise molecular events that follow agonist binding are unclear. Here, the receptors are locked in conformations equivalent to agonist-bound states, and it is observed that each binding site initiates the formation of one of two 'primed' states from which the channels are able to open and close.

    • Nuriya Mukhtasimova
    • Won Yong Lee
    • Steven M. Sine
  • Letter |

    The post-translational modifications of histone tails generate a 'histone code' that defines local and global chromatin states. Here it is shown that nuclear GlcNAcylation of a histone lysine methyltransferase, MLL5, by O-linked β-N-acetylglucosamine transferase, facilitates retinoic-acid-induced granulopoiesis.

    • Ryoji Fujiki
    • Toshihiro Chikanishi
    • Shigeaki Kato
  • Letter |

    Cells have two main DNA repair pathways, homologous recombination and end-joining, that are thought to function at different stages of the cell cycle, but how the cell recognizes these stages and switches its predominant repair pathway is not well known. The protein CtIP is now shown to serve as a switch between these pathways through a specific phosphorylation that recruits the breast cancer susceptibility protein, BRCA1, which in turn directs the cell to use homologous recombination.

    • Maximina H. Yun
    • Kevin Hiom

Careers and Recruitment

Postdoc Journal

Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    The proportion of US full-time and tenure-track faculty members at US colleges is falling.

  • Career Brief |

    Wind technology centre offers exciting opportunities.

Special Report

  • Special Report |

    Feelings of inadequacy in one's field sometimes plague even the most accomplished scientists, especially women. Karen Kaplan analyses this apparent phenomenon and its impact.

    • Karen Kaplan



  • Insight |

    Membrane protein biophysics

    Membrane proteins have essential roles in the function of a cell or organelle. The structure and function of these proteins are intimately linked, and recent structural advances have allowed biophysicists to discern much more about how these molecular machines work.

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