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Volume 478 Issue 7370, 27 October 2011

The latest DNA recovery and sequencing technologies have been used to reconstruct the genome of the Yersinia pestis bacterium responsible for the Black Death pandemic of bubonic plague that spread across Europe in the fourteenth century. The genome was pieced together from total DNA extracted from the skeletal remains of four individuals excavated from a large cemetery on the site of the Royal Mint in East Smithfield in London, where more than 2,000 plague victims were buried in 1348 and 1349. The draft genome sequence does not differ substantially from modern Y. pestis strains, providing no answer to the question of why the Black Death was more deadly than modern bubonic plague outbreaks. On the cover, the excavation at the site of the old Royal Mint, 1987 (Rex Features).


  • Editorial |

    The key to treatments for autism and schizophrenia could lie in the brains of recently deceased children. To make advances, researchers need access to an international bank of donated material.

  • Editorial |

    Germany must do more to encourage dialogue on animal experimentation.

  • Editorial |

    Results confirming climate change are welcome, even when released before peer review.

World View

Research Highlights

Seven Days

  • Seven Days |

    The week in science: Earthquake hits Turkey; global warming verified; and promising trial results from a new multiple sclerosis drug.



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    Asking parents to donate a child's brain to research is emotionally fraught. Some researchers say that it is time to put aside the taboos.

    • Alison Abbott


  • Comment |

    Mobility can bring opportunities for coping with environmental change, say Richard Black, Stephen R. G. Bennett, Sandy M. Thomas and John R. Beddington.

    • Richard Black
    • Stephen R. G. Bennett
    • John R. Beddington
  • Comment |

    Drought is the most pressing problem caused by climate change. It receives too little attention, says Joseph Romm.

    • Joseph Romm

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    Martin Daly explores Steven Pinker's treatise on the taming of human aggression.

    • Martin Daly
  • Books & Arts |

    Linnaea Ostroff examines a history of Genentech, the US company that first made biology a business.

    • Linnaea Ostroff
  • Books & Arts |

    Mathematician Persi Diaconis of Stanford University in California ran away from home in his teens to perform card tricks. As he publishes a book on the mathematics of magic, co-authored with juggler and fellow mathematician Ron Graham, he explains what makes a good trick.

    • Jascha Hoffman



  • Obituary |

    Immunologist and cheerleader for dendritic-cell biology.

    • Michel C. Nussenzweig
    • Ira Mellman

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    The observation of unusually low ozone levels over the Arctic last winter provides reassuring evidence that our knowledge of stratospheric chemistry is robust. Whether such an episode will happen again is an open question. See Article p.469

    • Rolando R. Garcia
  • News & Views |

    Plants and fungi follow a complex route to make the vitamin thiamine for carbohydrate metabolism. One of the pathway's protein participants turns out to be a surprising player, sacrificing its own activity in the process. See Letter p.542

    • Peter Roach
  • News & Views |

    A stellar occultation by the dwarf planet Eris provides a new estimate of its size. It also reveals a surprisingly bright planetary surface, which could indicate the relatively recent condensation of a putative atmosphere. See Letter p.493

    • Amanda Gulbis
  • News & Views |

    The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. The first complete genome sequence of the causative Yersinia pestis bacterium provides a fresh perspective on plague evolution. See Letter p.506

    • Edward C. Holmes
  • News & Views |

    The idea that space-time might be fundamentally fuzzy is much debated among theorists. A search for signatures of this effect on light from distant cosmic sources has come up empty-handed, but shows the potential of this approach.

    • Giovanni Amelino-Camelia
  • News & Views |

    The tendency of hydrophobic surfaces to aggregate in water is often invoked to explain how biomolecules recognize and bind to each other. Water seems to have a much more active role in these processes than had been thought.

    • Philip Ball





  • Feature |

    Once known mostly for its natural beauty, Grenoble is becoming a centre of innovation for academia and industry.

    • Katharine Sanderson


Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    Low pay, low grant success and job insecurity add to researchers’ miseries in Australia.

  • Career Brief |

    Agreement between Europe and Singapore will aid training and collaborations.


  • Futures |

    Time for an upgrade.

    • Biren Shah
Nature Briefing

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