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Volume 466 Issue 7306, 29 July 2010

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that world food production needs to increase by 70% by 2050. Under the title ‘Can science feed the world?’, a series of pieces in this issue looks at the contributions that plant scientists and biotechnologists can make towards attaining that goal. Credit: Jon Berkeley/Photos: Larry Fleming, Bill Barksdale, AgStock, Johner Bildbyra, Corbis.

Postdoc Journal


  • Editorial |

    Producing enough food for the world's population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.

  • Editorial |

    The Canadian government should rethink its decision to change the way census data are collected.

Research Highlights

Journal Club



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    World hunger remains a major problem, but not for the reasons many suspect. Nature analyses the trends and the challenges of feeding 9 billion by 2050.

  • News Feature |

    Feeding the world is going to require the scientific and financial muscle of agricultural biotechnology companies. Natasha Gilbert asks whether they're up to the task.

    • Natasha Gilbert
  • News Feature |

    Plant breeders are turning their attention to roots to increase yields without causing environmental damage. Virginia Gewin unearths some promising subterranean strategies.

    • Virginia Gewin
  • News Feature |

    With its plentiful sun, water and land, Brazil is quickly surpassing other countries in food production and exports. But can it continue to make agricultural gains without destroying the Amazon? Jeff Tollefson reports from Brazil.

    • Jeff Tollefson


  • Opinion |

    To feed the world without further damaging the planet, Jeffrey Sachs and 24 food-system experts call for a global data collection and dissemination network to track the myriad impacts of different farming practices.

    • Jeffrey Sachs
    • Roseline Remans
    • Pedro A. Sanchez
  • Opinion |

    Unjustified and impractical legal requirements are stopping genetically engineered crops from saving millions from starvation and malnutrition, says Ingo Potrykus.

    • Ingo Potrykus


Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    Recent reviewers suggest good books to refresh your mind this summer — from a cultural history of piracy to a scientific tour of the boulevards of Paris.

    • Steven Shapin
    • W. F. Bynum
    • Vaclav Smil

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Work on stem cells is one of the hottest research areas in biology. But are such studies of any therapeutic value? Fortunately, yes, as is evident from successes in treating blindness.

    • Elena Ezhkova
    • Elaine Fuchs
  • News & Views |

    The heartland of the United States lies within a tectonic plate, certain regions of which have experienced large and geologically recent earthquakes. Explanations for those events are still being sought.

    • Mark D. Zoback
  • News & Views |

    Phytoplankton biomass is a crucial measure of the health of ocean ecosystems. An impressive synthesis of the relevant data, stretching back to more than 100 years ago, provides a connection with climate change.

    • David A. Siegel
    • Bryan A. Franz
  • News & Views |

    The daily light–dark cycle affects many aspects of normal physiology through the activity of circadian clocks. It emerges that the pancreas has a clock of its own, which responds to energy fluctuations.

    • Katja A. Lamia
    • Ronald M. Evans
  • News & Views |

    Noise is usually viewed as the bane of measurements. But a neat experiment has confirmed a long-standing prediction for an exotic electronic state of matter through the increase of noise in charge transmission.

    • Chetan Nayak

Review Article

  • Review Article |

    For 350 years after Galileo's discoveries, ground-based telescopes and theoretical modelling furnished everything known about the Sun's planetary retinue. Over the past five decades, data from spacecraft sent to all the planets and some of their satellites have shown the diversity of Solar System bodies. Many planets and satellites have changed substantially since their birth, and violent events punctuate their histories.

    • Joseph A. Burns


  • Article |

    The quantum Hall effect takes place in a two-dimensional electron gas under a strong magnetic field and involves current flow along the edges of the sample. In the fractional regime, counter-propagating modes that carry energy but not charge — the so-called neutral modes — have been predicted but never observed. These authors report the first direct observation of these elusive modes.

    • Aveek Bid
    • N. Ofek
    • D. Mahalu
  • Article |

    Using historical data combined with more recent satellite observations, these authors show that global phytoplankton biomass has been declining during the past century.

    • Daniel G. Boyce
    • Marlon R. Lewis
    • Boris Worm


  • Letter |

    Fluctuations arising from Heisenberg's uncertainty principle enable quantum systems to exhibit phase transitions even at zero temperature. For example, a superfluid-to-insulator transition has been observed for weakly interacting bosonic atomic gases. Here the authors report a novel type of quantum phase transition in a strongly interacting, one-dimensional quantum gas of bosonic caesium atoms. The results open up the experimental study of ultracold gases in a new regime.

    • Elmar Haller
    • Russell Hart
    • Hanns-Christoph Nägerl
  • Letter |

    Non-classical states of light, such as entangled photon states, form an essential quantum resource. Entangled photon pairs can be created by spontaneous parametric down-conversion of laser light, but so far it has not been possible to produce photon triplets in this way. These authors report the generation of quantum-correlated photon triplets by cascaded down-conversion of a single pump photon. This should find widespread use in optical quantum technologies.

    • Hannes Hübel
    • Deny R. Hamel
    • Thomas Jennewein
  • Letter |

    New methods are emerging that aim to image chemical reactions as they occur using X-ray diffraction, electron diffraction or laser-induced recollision, but spectral selection cannot be used to monitor the reacting molecules for these methods. These authors show that this apparent limitation offers opportunities for recollision-based high-harmonic spectroscopy, in which unexcited molecules can act as local oscillators against which structural and electronic dynamics is observed on an attosecond timescale.

    • H. J. Wörner
    • J. B. Bertrand
    • D. M. Villeneuve
  • Letter |

    These authors argue that the concentration of magnitude-7 or larger earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone since the end of the last ice age results from the recent, climate-controlled, erosional history of the northern Mississippi embayment. They show that the upward flexure of the lithosphere caused a reduction of normal stresses in the upper crust sufficient to unclamp pre-existing faults close to failure equilibrium.

    • E. Calais
    • A. M. Freed
    • S. Stein
  • Letter |

    Birds and mammals have distinct sex chromosomes: in birds, males are ZZ and females ZW; in mammals, males are XY and females XX. By sequencing the chicken Z chromosome and comparing it with the human X chromosome, these authors overturn the currently held view that these chromosomes have diverged little from their autosomal progenitors. The Z and X chromosomes seem to have followed convergent evolutionary trajectories, despite evolving with opposite systems of heterogamety.

    • Daniel W. Bellott
    • Helen Skaletsky
    • David C. Page
  • Letter |

    Sensory cortical neurons are interconnected at different scales, and this could be related to differences in functional interactions. Using maximum entropy models, these authors explore the correlation structure of neurons in primary visual cortex of anaesthetized monkeys recorded using multiple tetrodes. They conclude that distant neurons display pairwise correlations but that local networks can have more complex interactions that may act to sparsify the neural code.

    • Ifije E. Ohiorhenuan
    • Ferenc Mechler
    • Jonathan D. Victor
  • Letter |

    It has long been thought that motor control is achieved through the balanced activity of two distinct pathways through the basal ganglia that have opposing effects, but this has never been functionally verified. These authors directly test this hypothesis with optogenetic activation of different populations of mouse striatal neurons, and not only trace functional connectivity but demonstrate opposing effects on motor behaviour in a parkinsonian model.

    • Alexxai V. Kravitz
    • Benjamin S. Freeze
    • Anatol C. Kreitzer
  • Letter |

    Circadian rhythms control many physiological functions. During periods of feeding, pancreatic islets secrete insulin to maintain glucose homeostasis — a rhythmic process that is disturbed in people with diabetes. These authors show that pancreatic islets contain their own clock: they have self-sustained circadian oscillations of CLOCK and BMAL1 genes and proteins, which are vital for the regulation of circadian rhythms. Without this clock, a cascade of cellular failure and pathology initiates the onset of diabetes mellitus.

    • Biliana Marcheva
    • Kathryn Moynihan Ramsey
    • Joseph Bass
  • Letter |

    Ependymoma is a type of neural tumour that arises throughout the central nervous system. Using comparative transcriptomics in mouse and human tumours, these authors home in on mutations that are specific to individual tumour subgroups. In doing so, they generate the first mouse model of ependymoma and demonstrate the power of interspecific genomic comparisons to interrogate cancer subgroups.

    • Robert A. Johnson
    • Karen D. Wright
    • Richard J. Gilbertson
  • Letter |

    LRRK2 activity is dysregulated in Parkinson's disease, but how it contributes to the pathogenesis is unknown. These authors show that Drosophila LRRK2 interacts with the Argonaute component (dAgo1) of the RNA-induced silencing complex. This is associated with reduced levels of dAgo1, interaction between phospho-4E-BP1 and hAgo2, and impairment of microRNA-mediated repression. This leads to overexpression of the cell cycle genes e2f1 and dp, and consequent degeneration of dopaminergic neurons.

    • Stephan Gehrke
    • Yuzuru Imai
    • Bingwei Lu
  • Letter |

    In the course of characterizing short RNAs from human cells using single-molecule high-throughput sequencing, these authors identify a new short RNA species. The presence of non-genomically encoded poly(U) residues at their 5' ends implies the existence of an unknown RNA copying mechanism in human cells.

    • Philipp Kapranov
    • Fatih Ozsolak
    • Patrice M. Milos
  • Letter |

    These authors have developed a method that enables them to observe single-molecule fluorescent probes with subnanometre precision and accuracy using conventional far-field fluorescence imaging. The improved resolution will enable researchers to characterize single 'molecules' of large, multisubunit biological complexes in biologically relevant environments.

    • Alexandros Pertsinidis
    • Yunxiang Zhang
    • Steven Chu



  • Prospects |

    Scientists are increasingly asked to master skills in addition to their research. This is not necessarily a good thing, says Gene Russo.

    • Gene Russo

Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    NIH programme aims to help junior researchers gain independence.

  • Career Brief |

    Nontenured faculty members in the United States come top in contentment.

Careers and Recruitment

  • Careers and Recruitment |

    Few scientists realize that the enormous budget of the US Department of Defense includes sizeable funds for basic research. Eric Hand provides a guide for the uninitiated.

    • Eric Hand


  • Futures |

    The course of true love.

    • Deborah Walker
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