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Volume 461 Issue 7267, 22 October 2009

With the UN Climate Change Conference only 45 days away, the News and Opinion sections in this week’s issue tackle the key negotiation points for a climate treaty in Copenhagen. [Cover by Phil Disley]



  • Editorial |

    The chances of a strong treaty emerging from the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen seem small, but recent progress offers hope.

  • Editorial |

    The creation of a second pillar of excellence will give the country a chance to regain its scientific stature.

Research Highlights

Journal Club


News in Brief



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    Deep in the Himalayas, the disappearance of glaciers is threatening the kingdom of Bhutan. Anjali Nayar trekked through the mountains to see how the country is adapting to a warming world.

    • Anjali Nayar
  • News Feature |

    If the next climate treaty tackles deforestation, tropical nations will need to monitor the biomass of their forests. One ecologist has worked out a way to do that from the sky, finds Jeff Tollefson.

    • Jeff Tollefson



  • Opinion |

    Rajendra K. Pachauri says that India wants to be a constructive partner in Copenhagen negotiations on climate change. The country is taking domestic action even though it cannot accept mandatory emissions limits.

    • Rajendra K. Pachauri
  • Opinion |

    Greater emissions cuts by developed nations are the starting point for a successful climate deal at Copenhagen in December says Jiahua Pan.

    • Jiahua Pan
  • Opinion |

    Reaching an international climate agreement requires someone with exceptional skill, knowledge and diplomacy, says Kyoto chair Raúl Estrada-Oyuela.

    • Raúl Estrada-Oyuela.

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    The arts and advertising can galvanise public and political will in tackling global warming. But shared concern for human health is a better motivator than polar bears, finds Sanjay Khanna.

    • Sanjay Khanna
  • Books & Arts |

    Psychologist Robert Gifford is co-author of a recent American Psychological Association report that examined the interface between psychology and climate change. He explains what makes people receptive and how to get messages about climate science across effectively.

    • Sanjay Khanna
  • Books & Arts |

    David Reay examines the evolution of books about global warming and highlights those that have had most influence on public perceptions.

    • David Reay
  • Books & Arts |

    German architect Albert Speer Jr is a pioneer of sustainable building and city planning whose firm has designed ecological communities from Cologne in Germany to Shanghai in China. With the publication of a new book setting out his philosophy, he explains why we should take a more holistic approach to urban development.

    • John Whitfield

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Studies of molecular dynamics can be foiled by the presence of stereoisomers — molecules that have the same bond sequence arranged in different geometries. This problem has now been deflected.

    • Albert Stolow
  • News & Views |

    A hitherto undetected disk of debris around Saturn is the largest ever found to be orbiting a planet. This ring may hold the key to one of the most enigmatic landscapes in the Solar System.

    • Matthew S. Tiscareno
    • Matthew M. Hedman
  • News & Views |

    Analyses of boron isotopes in ancient marine carbonate sediments provide an enlightening perspective on the links between carbon dioxide and ice-cap cover at a climatically momentous time in Earth's history.

    • Damien Lemarchand
  • News & Views |

    Dedicated binding proteins stabilize single-stranded DNA, protecting it from breakage and distortion. Once thought to form inert complexes with DNA, such proteins are now shown to be remarkably mobile.

    • Nicholas P. George
    • James L. Keck
  • News & Views |

    Polyketide synthase enzymes make compounds from molecules that synthetic chemists can't easily control. The basis of the enzymes' ability to use such unstable precursors has been laid bare.

    • David H. Sherman
  • News & Views |

    Fluorescence microscopy is the most popular way to image biomolecules, but it leaves many of them in the dark. Non-fluorescent, light-absorbing molecules can now be viewed by a method that turns them into mini-lasers.

    • Stefan W. Hell
    • Eva Rittweger

Review Article


  • Article |

    Closely related species often have different sex-chromosome systems, but it is not known whether sex-chromosome turnover contributes to the evolution of reproductive isolation between species. Here, a neo-sex chromosome is identified in only one member of a sympatric species pair of stickleback fish in Japan. The newly evolved sex chromosome is found to contain genes that contribute to speciation, suggesting that sex-chromosome turnover might have a greater role in speciation than was previously appreciated.

    • Jun Kitano
    • Joseph A. Ross
    • Catherine L. Peichel
  • Article |

    The tumour microenvironment has an important role in tumorigenesis. Here, the genetic inactivation of Pten in stromal fibroblasts of mouse mammary glands is shown to accelerate the initiation, progression and malignant transformation of mammary epithelial tumours. The data presented suggest that the Pten–Ets2 axis — Ets2 being a transcription factor activated by the loss of Pten — is a critical stroma-specific signalling pathway that suppresses mammary epithelial tumours.

    • Anthony J. Trimboli
    • Carmen Z. Cantemir-Stone
    • Gustavo Leone
  • Article |

    During DNA metabolism, single-stranded DNA intermediates are often generated that are protected from degradation by binding of ssDNA-binding (SSB) proteins. Bacterial SSB protein forms a tetramer that wraps ssDNA using its four subunits. Here it is shown that tetrameric SSB protein can spontaneously migrate along ssDNA; this diffusional movement introducing a new model for the redistribution of the SSB protein, while remaining bound to ssDNA during recombination and repair processes.

    • Rahul Roy
    • Alexander G. Kozlov
    • Taekjip Ha


  • Letter |

    In the Solar System, planetary rings tend to lie within a few radii of their host body, because at these distances gravitational accelerations inhibit satellite formation. One of the best known exceptions to this rule is Saturn's E ring, a broad sheet of dust continuously supplied by source satellites that fades from view at five to ten planetary radii. An enormous ring associated with Saturn's outer moon Phoebe is now reported; it extends from at least 128 to 207 Saturn radii.

    • Anne J. Verbiscer
    • Michael F. Skrutskie
    • Douglas P. Hamilton
  • Letter |

    A broad class of theories exist which share the distinguishing characteristics of quantum mechanics but allow even stronger correlations. Here, the principle of 'information causality' is introduced and shown to be respected by both classical and quantum physics; however, it is violated by other models that resemble quantum mechanics but with stronger correlations. It is suggested that information causality may help to distinguish physical theories from non-physical ones.

    • Marcin Pawłowski
    • Tomasz Paterek
    • Marek Żukowski
  • Letter |

    Imaging beyond the diffraction limit — to resolve tiny features in cells, for example — has had to rely on tagging the imaged substance with fluorescent chromophores or other techniques that are much less sensitive, like absorption. The use of stimulated emission (a property, unlike fluorescence, which all molecules can have) is now reported; sensitivity is orders of magnitude higher than for spontaneous emission or absorption contrast, and fluorescence is not used.

    • Wei Min
    • Sijia Lu
    • X. Sunney Xie
  • Letter |

    It is generally accepted that declining carbon dioxide (CO2) levels were an important factor in the Eocene–Oligocene transition about 34 million years ago, when the world shifted from a greenhouse to an icehouse climate. Here, using the boron isotope pH proxy on carbonate microfossils from a recently discovered geological section in Tanzania, atmospheric CO2 levels before, during and after the climate transition are estimated.

    • Paul N. Pearson
    • Gavin L. Foster
    • Bridget S. Wade
  • Letter |

    Although seismic anisotropy in the upper mantle is generally attributed to the crystal-preferred orientation of olivine, the strong trench-parallel anisotropy observed in several subduction systems is difficult to explain in terms of olivine anisotropy. Using high-pressure deformation experiments, it is now shown that the crystal-preferred orientation of serpentine, the main hydrous mineral in the upper mantle, can produce the strong trench-parallel seismic anisotropy observed in such subduction systems.

    • Ikuo Katayama
    • Ken-ichi Hirauchi
    • Jun-ichi Ando
  • Letter |

    The recent description of the primitive Eocene primate Darwinius has been widely publicized as an important 'link' in the early evolution of Anthropoidea. The extinct group to which Darwinius belongs, the 'adapoid' primates, was not generally thought to be close to the anthropoids. Here, the jaw and teeth of a large-bodied adapiform from the earliest late Eocene of Egypt is described; detailed phylogenetic analysis shows that adapiforms were only very distant relatives of anthropoids but that they do have some features that suggest convergent evolution.

    • Erik R. Seiffert
    • Jonathan M. G. Perry
    • Doug M. Boyer
  • Letter |

    Sleep deprivation can have adverse cognitive effects, with one of the major consequences on the brain being memory deficits in learning models that are dependent on the hippocampus. A molecular mechanism by which brief sleep deprivation alters hippocampal function is now identified in mice; it involves the impairment of cyclic-AMP- and protein-kinase-A-dependent forms of synaptic plasticity.

    • Christopher G. Vecsey
    • George S. Baillie
    • Ted Abel
  • Letter |

    The mammalian cochlea is innervated predominantly by type I sensory neurons, but also present are the far less numerous type II neurons, the function of which has been the subject of much speculation. Studies of type II fibres now show that they receive excitatory glutamatergic synaptic input and that they are depolarized by exogenous ATP. These results prove that type II neurons function as cochlear afferents, and can be modulated by ATP.

    • Catherine Weisz
    • Elisabeth Glowatzki
    • Paul Fuchs
  • Letter |

    Most eukaryotic genomes harbour numerous transposable elements which contribute to gene and genome evolution; however, how genomic integrity is maintained in the face of high transposition is not completely understood. High-throughput sequencing of individual rice plants is now used to assess the impact of insertion on gene expression. The vast majority of transposable element insertions are found either to upregulate or to have no detectable effect on gene transcription.

    • Ken Naito
    • Feng Zhang
    • Susan R. Wessler
  • Letter |

    During the development of flowering plants, sex determination leads to the physical separation of male and female flowers from an originally bisexual floral meristem. Here, in melon, the transition from male to female flowers is shown to result from epigenetic changes in the promoter of a transcription factor, CmWIP1. The data presented are used to propose a model for the control and development of male, female and hermaphrodite flowers in melon.

    • Antoine Martin
    • Christelle Troadec
    • Abdelhafid Bendahmane
  • Letter |

    Regiospecific cyclizations of reactive poly-β-keto intermediates are known to lead to the structural variability of aromatic products of fungal nonreducing, multidomain iterative polyketide synthases (NR-PKS group of IPKSs), but questions about the process remain. The crystal structure and mutational studies of a dissected product template monodomain from PksA, the NR-PKS that initiates the biosynethesis of the hepatocarcinogen aflatoxin B1, are now presented.

    • Jason M. Crawford
    • Tyler P. Korman
    • Craig A. Townsend
  • Letter |

    tRNAs are transcribed as precursor molecules that are then shortened, have a short sequence added, and may then undergo modifications of certain nucleotides to generate a different amino acid specificity. Here, tRNAIle2 lysidine synthetase (TilS) — a bacterial enzyme that carries out a nucleotide modification — is shown to specifically recognize and modify tRNAIle2 in its precursor form, thereby avoiding potential translation errors.

    • Kotaro Nakanishi
    • Luc Bonnefond
    • Osamu Nureki

Technology Feature

  • Technology Feature |

    After a long lull, powerful new technologies are putting the charting of brain circuitry back on neuroscientists' agenda. Michael Eisenstein explores the challenge of mapping the mammalian mind.

    • Michael Eisenstein


  • Prospects |

    Survey results suggest that mobile technology offers scientists both increased productivity and unwelcome intrusion. Rich Pennock speculates on the consequences.

    • Rich Pennock

Careers Q&A

  • Careers Q&A |

    A particle physicist at the University of Manchester, UK, Söldner-Rembold is the latest spokesperson elected to co-coordinate the D0 experiment, an exploration of the subatomic universe that started in 1992 at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

    • Virginia Gewin


  • Regions |

    Academic and government labs in the Chicago area are combining forces to reel in a host of large collaborative research projects — and tens of millions of dollars in funding. Paul Smaglik sums up.

    • Paul Smaglik


  • Futures |

    The winds of change.

    • K V

Brief Communications Arising

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