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Science  23 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5756, pp. 1880-1885
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5756.1880a

The News Staff

Planetary probes

Plant development

Violent neutron stars

Genetics of brain disease

□ Earth's differentiation

Potassium channels

□ Climate change

□ Systems biology


2 Planetary Blitz


See Web links on planetary probes

Scientists and engineers outdid themselves in 2005 in mounting exploratory expeditions beyond Earth. They had spacecraft at or on the way to the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, a comet, an asteroid, Saturn, and the very edge of the solar system. At the Red Planet, three orbiters and two rovers beamed back terabytes of data. The high point of a banner year, however, came on Saturn's haze-shrouded moon Titan. In January, the European spacecraft Huygens drifted down to a familiar-looking but fundamentally weird world.

The first landing on another planet's moon revealed a world where infrequent but drenching rains of liquid methane wash low hills, cutting networks of steep-sided valleys and flushing icy debris and dark organic crud out into shallow lakes. The lakes then evaporate away, although the lander apparently settled into ground still soaked with methane. The discovery of a sort of hydrologic cycle shaping another world is a first.


Huygens found a familiar-looking world washed by methane rains.


A fleet of other explorers joined Huygens this year. The aging Voyager 1 reported approaching the “edge” of the solar system, where the solar wind slows abruptly. The Deep Impact spacecraft plowed into comet Tempel 1 to reveal a fluffy subsurface. Cassini repeatedly swung by Saturn's rings, Titan, and other moons. SMART-1 arrived at the moon on its ion-drive engine. Hayabusa got up-close and personal with asteroid Itokawa. Stardust headed home with bits of comet Wild 2. And all the while, MESSENGER cruised toward Mercury, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Venus Express spiraled toward their targets. Planetary scientists, for the time being at least, are in their second golden age of solar system exploration.

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Papers and Articles

R. A. Kerr, “Titan, Once a World Apart, Becomes Eerily Familiar,” Science 307, 330 (2005)

R. A. Kerr, “Titan Clouds Hint of Heavy Rains, Methane Gurglings,” Science 310, 421 (2005)

G. Schilling, “European Probe Returns to Our Neglected Neighbor,” Science 310, 431 (2005)

R. A. Kerr, “Beaming to Itokawa,” Science 309, 1797 (2005)

R. A. Kerr, “Deep Impact Finds a Flying Snowbank of a Comet,” Science 309, 1667 (2005)

Special issues of Science:

Cassini reveals Titan (13 May 2005)

Voyager 1 (23 September 2005)

Deep Impact (14 October 2005)

Interesting Web Sites

NASA's Solar System Exploration

Overviews of current missions are provided.

European Space Agency

Special features are available about Mars Express and Cassini-Huygens.

European Space Agency Science Programme

Resource pages are provided for Mars Express, Venus Express, SMART-1, and Cassini-Huygens.


Information from the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

NASA mission Web sites:


Voyager: The Interstellar Mission

Mars Exploration Rover Mission

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Deep Impact



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3 Blooming Marvelous

See Web links on plant development

Several key molecular cues behind spring's burst of color came to light in 2005. In August, for example, three groups of plant molecular biologists finally pinned down the identity of florigen, a signal that initiates the seasonal development of flowers. The signal is the messenger RNA of a gene called FT. When days get long enough, this RNA moves from leaves to the growth tip, where the FT protein interacts with a growth tip-specific transcription factor, FD. The molecular double whammy ensures that blossoms appear in the right place on the plant at the right time of year.

Researchers also gained new insights into the workings of a gene called LEAFY that is involved in stimulating flowering. Comparisons of LEAFY in moss, ferns, and cress suggest that over the past 400 million years, just a few base changes have converted the gene from a broad-spectrum growth stimulator—as it still is in moss—to one that seems to fire up only for flowering in more recently evolved plants.


False-colored nascent cress flowers show effects of mutant LEAFY gene.


The plant hormone gibberellin helps control the later stages of flower development, as well as other aspects of cell growth involved in cellular expansion. In 2005, researchers identified the receptor for this hormone in rice, a valuable step in improving crops. Plant biologists also pinpointed another key receptor, for the essential plant growth hormone auxin. This receptor is part of the cell's protein-degradation machinery that destroys the proteins that keep auxin activity in check.

Finally, the plant gene HOTHEAD—important for putting the finishing touches on flower design—proved to be quite a head-scratcher. Alleles of this gene, found in one generation of the self-fertilizing weed Arabidopsis but missing in the next, showed up again in the third generation. The discovery suggests that, surprisingly, cells may have a cache of RNA from which to reconstruct the missing allele.

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Papers and Articles

T. Huang et al., “The mRNA of the Arabidopsis Gene FT Moves from Leaf to Shoot Apex and Induces Flowering,” Science 309, 1694 (2005)

M. Abe et al., “FD, a bZIP Protein Mediating Signals from the Floral Pathway Integrator FT at the Shoot Apex,” Science 309, 1052 (2005)

P.A. Wigge et al., “Integration of Spatial and Temporal Information During Floral Induction in Arabidopsis,” Science 309, 1056 (2005)

M.A. Blázquez, “The Right Time and Place for Making Flowers,” Science 309, 1024 (2005)

Perspective article highlighting the papers by Huang et al., Abe et al., and Wigge et al..

A. Maizel et al., “The Floral Regulator LEAFY Evolves by Substitutions in the DNA Binding Domain,” Science 308, 260 (2005)

M. Ashikari et al., “Cytokinin Oxidase Regulates Rice Grain Production,” Science 309, 741 (2005)

M. Ueguchi-Tanaka et al., GIBBERELLIN INSENSITIVE DWARF1 Encodes a Soluble Receptor for Gibberellin,” Nature 437, 693 (2005)

N. Dharmasiri et al., “The F-Box Protein TIR1 is an Auxin Receptor,” Nature 435, 441 (2005)

S. Kepinski and O. Leyser, “The Arabidopsis F-Box Protein TIR1 is an Auxin Receptor,” Nature 435, 446 (2005)

D. Ferber, “Plant Hormone's Long-Sought Receptor Found,” Science 308, 1240 (2005)

News story highlighting the identification of the auxin receptor.

S.J. Lolle et al., “Genome-Wide Non-Mendelian Inheritance of Extra-Genomic Information in Arabidopsis,” Nature 434, 505 (2005)

E. Pennisi, “Talking About a Revolution: Hidden RNA May Fix Mutant Genes,” Science 307, 1852 (2005)

News story highlighting the Lolle et al. study.

Interesting Web Sites

The Plant Link Library

A database of plant science-related links from the Department of Plant Science, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

The Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR)

Access to a variety of Arabidopsis resources including news, analysis tools, and seed and DNA stocks.


Resources for plant comparative genomics, supported by the National Science Foundation.

Plant Physiology Online

The companion Web site for the third edition of Taiz and Zeiger's Plant Physiology.


General information on plant hormones from the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The Floral Genome Project

Aims to investigate the origin, conservation, and diversification of the genetic architecture of the flower, and develop tools for evolutionary functional genomics in plants.

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4 Neutron Stars Gone Wild

See Web links on violent neutron stars

Astrophysicists adore neutron stars, the city-sized corpses of stars that pack matter into its most extreme state. This year, new instruments yielded vivid insights into the most violent behaviors of these objects.

The fireworks started on 27 December 2004, when a 0.2-second pulse of radiation from near the center of the Milky Way seared detectors on more than a dozen spacecraft. Despite its distance, the blast was brighter in x-rays and gamma rays than any solar eruption. Weeks of analysis showed that the probable source was a nearly global starquake on a “magnetar,” an unstable young neutron star encased by the strongest magnetic fields known. Such flares had happened before, but this one was 100 times more potent.

Astrophysicists proposed that giant magnetar flares in nearby galaxies solved part of the mystery of short gamma ray bursts (GRBs)—random flashes in the heavens that telescopes had not been quick enough to see. But starting in May, NASA high-energy satellites caught several short GRBs at much greater distances. Ground-based telescopes, many of them new robotic systems, swung to measure the fading aftermaths. Images revealed that the bursts were in the outskirts of galaxies, far from nurseries of massive stars that create young neutron stars. Moreover, the telescopes found no traces of supernova explosions, thought to produce longer GRBs.

Flash points.

Collisions between neutron stars (top) or a neutron star and a black hole appear to spark most short bursts of gamma rays.


The evidence matched a favored scenario for short GRBs: a rapid, cataclysmic merger of two ancient neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole. Researchers can't yet discriminate between the two types of collisions. But that should change as the Swift satellite and other instruments expose more of the fleeting bursts. On the ground, space-rippling gravitational waves from merging neutron stars could trigger the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory for the first time.

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Papers and Articles

K. Hurley et al., “An exceptionally bright flare from SGR 1806?20 and the origins of short-duration big γ-ray bursts,” Nature 434, 1098 (2005)

D. M. Palmer et al., “A giant big γ-ray flare from the magnetar SGR 1806?20,” Nature 434, 1107 (2005)

D. B. Fox et al., “The afterglow of GRB 050709 and the nature of the short-hard big γ-ray bursts,” Nature 437, 845 (2005)

N. Gehrels et al., “A short big γ-ray burst apparently associated with an elliptical galaxy at redshift z = 0.225,” Nature 437, 851 (2005)

R. Irion, “Giant Neutron-Star Flare Blitzes the Galaxy With Gamma Rays,” Science 307, 1178 (2005)

R. Irion, “Signs Point to Neutron-Star Crash,” Science 308, 939 (2005)

Interesting Web Sites

The Field Guide of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Introductions to neutron stars and gamma-ray bursts are provided.

NASA's Imagine the Universe

This educational Web site from the Goddard Space Flight Center offers presentations on gamma-ray bursts and neutron stars.

NASA's Swift Mission

Swift is a multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst science. “Cosmic Mystery Solved” is a feature on short gamma-ray bursts.

The HETE-2 program at MIT

The High Energy Transient Explorer is a small scientific satellite designed to detect and localize gamma-ray bursts.

Short Gamma-Ray Bursts: Death Throes of Merging Neutron Stars

A presentation by the Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik

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5 Miswiring the Brain

See Web links on genetics of brain disease

Although dozens of genes have been linked to brain disorders in recent years, connecting the dots between genetics and abnormal behavior has been anything but child's play. This year, however, researchers gained clues about the mechanisms of diverse disorders including schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome, and dyslexia. A common theme seems to be emerging: Many of the genes involved appear to play a role in brain development.

In November, two reports put meat on the bones of previous claims that variants of a gene called DISC1 increase the risk of schizophrenia. One research team found that inhibiting DISC1 activity in mice alters brain development, causing subtle abnormalities in the animals' cerebral cortices similar to those seen in postmortem brains from schizophrenia patients. Another team linked DISC1 to molecular signaling pathways important in brain development and in regulating neurotransmitter levels, which are often out of whack in psychiatric patients.

In October, researchers described a rare genetic defect that appears to cause Tourette syndrome. The mutation likely causes only a tiny fraction of Tourette cases, but its discovery may be an important lead. One gene that's disrupted, SLITRK1, influences branch formation by neurons and is active during development in brain regions thought to be altered in Tourette syndrome and other conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder. New research also links developmental genes to dyslexia, identifying three genes—KIAA0319, DCDC2, and ROBO1—that may cause faulty wiring in neural circuits involved in reading.

Flawed circuits?

Many brain disorders are linked to genes affecting development.


Much of the new work suggests that genetic miscues, rather than causing neuropsychiatric disorders outright, alter brain biology in the womb in a way that predisposes us to problems later in life. A better understanding of how this happens may help reduce the risks.

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Papers and Articles

A. Kamiya et al., “A Schizophrenia-Associated Mutation of DISC1 Perturbs Cerebral Cortex Development,” Nature Cell Biology 7, 1167 (2005)

J.K. Millar et al., “DISC1 and PDE4B Are Interacting Genetic Factors in Schizophrenia That Regulate cAMP Signaling,” Science 310, 1187 (2005)

A. Sawa and S. Snyder, “Two Genes Link Two Distinct Psychoses,” Science 310, 1128 (2005)

Perspective article on the Millar et al. paper.

J.F. Abelson et al., “Sequence Variants in SLITRK1 are Associated with Tourette's Syndrome,” Science 310, 317 (2005)

S. Olson, “Teenager's Odd Chromosome Points to Possible Tourette Syndrome Gene,” Science 310, 211 (2005)

News article highlighting the Abelson et al. paper.

H. Meng et al., “DCDC2 is Associated with Reading Disability and Modulates Neuronal Development in the Brain,” PNAS 102, 17053 (2005)

G. Miller, “Genes That Guide Brain Development Linked to Dyslexia,” Science 310, 759 (2005)

N. Cope et al., “Strong Evidence That KIAA0319 on Chromosome 6p Is a Susceptibility Gene for Developmental Dyslexia,” Am. J. Hum. Genet. 75, 581 (2005)

K. Hannula Jouppi et al., “The Axon Guidance Receptor Gene ROBO1 Is a Candidate Gene for Developmental Dyslexia,” PLoS Genetics 1, e50 (2005)

Interesting Web Sites

Schizophrenia Research Forum

An international online forum to present and discuss ideas, research news, and data.

Schizophrenia Information from Medline Plus

A comprehensive resource with links to information about diagnosis, treatment, research, and news.

Tourette Syndrome Information Page

Made available by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Tourette Syndrome Association

Dyslexia Information Page

From the NINDS.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

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6 Geochemical Turmoil

See Web links on Earth's differentiation

When researchers announced in June that they had detected isotopic differences between earthly and extraterrestrial rocks, geochemists had to scrap their long-standing view of how Earth formed and evolved. They no longer believe that thoroughly mixed dust and ice agglomerated 4.5 billion years ago to form an Earth that has remained more or less mixed ever since. Something more interesting must have happened.


Young Earth had a more interesting history than scientists believed.


Key to the cosmochemical revolution was new technology. In the early 1980s, researchers measured the ratio of neodymium isotopes both in the chondritic meteorites thought to represent the solar system's starting material and in rocks derived from Earth's interior. The neodymium ratios were the same, within analytical error, implying that chondritic meteorites and accessible parts of Earth still resemble the solar system's starting material. But advances in mass-spectrometer technology have whittled away at the error bars. When researchers measured the same sort of rocks this year, they found a 20-part-per-million difference that had been undetectable in the earlier scatter.

The minute isotopic difference has opened a yawning chasm between cosmochemists. One camp simply assumes that Earth got its makings from a part of the nascent solar system that happened to have a distinctive, nonchondritic composition. Others believe that the presolar nebula was compositionally uniform, not lumpy, but that shortly after Earth's formation, while its rock was still roiling in a “magma ocean,” a portion enriched in heat-generating elements separated out and sank beyond geochemists' ken. Today, it may still lie between molten core and rocky mantle, its heat helping generate the core's magnetic field and sending plumes of hot rock toward the surface.

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Papers and Articles

M. Boyet and R. W. Carlson, 142Nd Evidence for Early (>4.53 Ga) Global Differentiation of the Silicate Earth,” Science 309, 576 (2005); published online 16 June 2005, DOI: 10.1126/science.1113634

R. A. Kerr, “New Geochemical Benchmark Changes Everything on Earth,” Science 308, 1723 (2005)

Interesting Web Sites

What Is Mass Spectrometry?

Broad introduction from the American Society for Mass Spectrometry.

Planetary Differentiation

Brief summary by Raymond Jeanloz, from Britannica Online.

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7 Protein Portrait

See Web links on potassium channels

This year, researchers got their best look yet at the molecular structure of a voltage-gated potassium channel, a protein as essential to nerve and muscle as transistors are to computers. Sitting in the cell membrane, these tiny gatekeepers open and close in response to voltage changes, controlling the flow of potassium ions. The new atomic-scale portrait should be extremely useful for biophysicists seeking to understand the workings of these crucial proteins. It may also represent a step toward reconciling a recent debate that has rankled the usually calm community of ion channel researchers. Or maybe not.

It all started in May 2003, when Roderick MacKinnon of Rockefeller University in New York City and colleagues published the first-ever structure of a voltage-gated potassium channel and proposed a model to explain how it worked. Everyone agreed that the snapshot was a technological feat. But many researchers suspected that the channel, called KvAP, had been distorted by the preparations for imaging, and critics complained that MacKinnon's proposed mechanism contradicted decades of experiments. A flurry of angry e-mails ensued. Unpleasant things were said.

New model.

Biochemists described the cell's K+ channel, but a big question remains.

CREDIT: S. B. LONG ET AL., SCIENCE 309, 833 (2005)

This August, MacKinnon (who subsequently won the 2003 chemistry Nobel) and colleagues published a second structure—this one of a rat channel called Kv1.2. The new portrait provides an unprecedented look at how the part of the channel that detects voltage changes couples to the mechanism that opens and closes the channel, and it rights several of the perceived wrongs with the KvAP structure. But it doesn't seem to resolve the most contentious issue: how the voltage sensor works. Only time—and more data—will tell.

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Papers and Articles

S.B. Long et al., “Crystal Structure of a Mammalian Voltage Dependent Shaker Family K+ Channel,” Science 309, 897 (2005)

S.B. Long et al., “Voltage Sensor of Kv1.2: Structural Basis of Electromechanical Coupling,” Science 309, 903 (2005)

R.F. Service, “A New Portrait Puts Potassium Pore in a Fresh Light,” Science 309, 867 (2005)

News article highlighting the papers by Long et al.

G. Miller, “Gateways Into Cells Usher in Nobels,” Science 302, 383 (2003)

G. Miller, “The Puzzling Portrait of a Pore,” Science 300, 2020 (2003)

Y. Jiang et al., “The Principle of Gating Charge Movement in a Voltage Dependent K+ Channel,” Nature 423, 42 (2003)

Interesting Web Sites

Potassium Channels

A molecular overview made available by the Protein Data Bank.

Voltage-Gated Potassium Channel Database

Includes protein sequences, references, and functional data.

Roderick MacKinnon's Nobel Profile

Includes links to an autobiography, interview, and lecture.

Ion Channels: Structure and Function

A Web Focus from Nature.

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8 A Change in Climate

See Web links on climate change

The crescendo of evidence indicting humans for global warming produced a breakthrough this year. Some U.S. politicians began talking and occasionally acting as if they will have to do something sooner or later about the growing emissions of greenhouse gases.

The new science was much like that of the past decade, just more insistent and more ominous. In January, climate modelers announced even higher confidence in earlier assertions that the oceans—down to great depths—have warmed in recent decades just as models said they would. Each of two tropical cyclone studies found that over recent decades more and more storms around the world have grown to the most intense levels as rising greenhouse gases have warmed tropical waters. At higher latitudes, scientists announced, Arctic Ocean ice cover had hit another record low, this time with the added warning that the feedbacks expected to accelerate high-latitude warming—and presumably ice loss—seem to be taking hold. And all this climate change is having an effect. It's altering everything from bird migration patterns in Australia to microbial compositions in sea-floor muck.

Less is less.

Arctic ice cover hit a new low in 005 as the world warmed.


Whether as a direct result of the mounting scientific evidence or not, the mood in the United States showed signs of shifting. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring that the threat warrants mandatory controls on greenhouse emissions if costs to the country are not significant. In the Northeast, nine states have agreed to limit emissions from power plants there. The governors of California, Oregon, and Washington have agreed to jointly encourage energy efficiency. And California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for his state to cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically over the next 45 years. Show biz or not, the talk is heating up.

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Online Extras on Climate Change

Papers and Articles

R. A. Kerr, “Ocean Warming Model again Points to a Human Touch,” Science 307, 1190 (2005)

T. P. Barnett et al., “Penetration of Human-Induced Warming into the World's Oceans,” Science 309, 284 (2005)

G. C. Hegerl and N. L. Bindoff, “Warming the World's Oceans,” Science 309, 254 (2005)

P. J. Webster et al., “Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment,” Science 309, 1844 (2005)

K. Emmanuel, “Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones over the Past 30 Years,” Nature 436, 686 (2005)

R. A. Kerr, “Is Katrina a Harbinger of Still More Powerful Hurricanes?,” Science 309, 1807 (2005)

Interesting Web Sites

NASA Watches Arctic Ice

An illustrated September 2005 presentation on the observed loss of Arctic sea ice.

Global Climate Change Research Explorer

An educational presentation from the Exploratorium.

Climate Change Portal

Information resources regarding climate change from the United Nations Environment Network.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPPC's mission is to assess scientific information relevant to human-based climate change.

Pew Center on Global Climate Change

An independent research and policy center that provides resources related to the causes and potential consequences of climate change.

NASA's Global Change Master Directory

A directory of Earth science data and services.

Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research

A part of the UK Met Office that focuses on the scientific issues associated with climate change.

Climatic Research Unit at the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

U.S. Climate Change Science Program

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9 Systems Biology Signals Its Arrival

See Web links on systems biology

Make room in the lab, molecular biologists; the engineers have arrived. Engineers have long excelled at understanding complex systems such as power grids and the Internet by tracking how information moves through a network. This year, that approach took off among systems biologists working to understand how cells respond to the myriad chemical and environmental signals bombarding them from all sides.

Molecular biologists have spent decades teasing apart individual cell signaling pathways, in the process building up ever more complex networks. But a static picture of those networks doesn't do justice to the webs of feedback loops and other complex interactions that produce a given output, such as the release of a particular intracellular messenger. To reveal these dynamics, systems biologists are now tracking multiple inputs and outputs of these networks simultaneously.

Where are we?

A dynamic approach is sorting out the intricate signals underlying life.


This year, for example, researchers in the United States used the approach to create a model of nearly 8000 chemical signals involved in a network leading to apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Along the way, they discovered new apoptosis signaling routes. Another U.S. team used gene-expression data to identify 40 genes that help trigger obesity, three of which had never been identified before. Other likeminded teams gained novel insights into signaling networks that control immune cells known as T cells and CA1 neurons in the hippocampus.

It's still early days for systems biology. But proponents anticipate that the emerging dynamic view of cell signaling networks will lead to a better understanding of complex diseases such as cancer and diabetes and to new treatments as well.

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Papers and Articles

K.A. Janes et al., “A Systems Model of Signaling Identifies a Molecular Basis Set for Cytokine-Induced Apoptosis,” Science 310, 1646 (2005)

A. Ma'ayan et al., “Formation of Regulatory Patterns During Signal Propagation in a Mammalian Cellular Network,” Science 309, 1078 (2005)

E. E. Schadt et al., “Embracing Complexity, Inching Closer to Reality,” Sci. STKE 2005, pe40 (2005)

E. E. Schadt et al., “An Integrative Genomics Approach to Infer Causal Associations Between Gene Expression and Disease,” Nature Genetics 37, 710 (2005)

K. Sachs et al., “Causal Protein-Signaling Networks Derived from Multiparameter Single-Cell Data,” Science 308, 523 (2005)

R. Brent and L. Lok, “A Fishing Buddy for Hypothesis Generators,” Science 308, 504 (2005)

A Perspective article highlighting the Sachs et al. paper.

D. Pe'er, “Bayesian Network Analysis of Signaling Networks: A Primer,” Sci. STKE 2005, p14 (2005)

E. Werner, “Meeting Report: The Future and Limits of Systems Biology,” Sci. STKE 2005, p16 (2005)

L. Hood et al., “Systems Biology and New Technologies Enable Predictive and Preventative Medicine,” Science 306, 640 (2004)

Interesting Web Sites

STKE Connections Map Database

Information on components of cell signaling pathways and their relations provided by leading authorities in the field.

Biology Workbench

Access to a broad range of on-line protein and nucleic acid databases and bioinformatics tools, from the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD.

AfCS-Nature Signaling Gateway

A free online resource providing research updates, an experimental data center and Molecule Pages, a database of key facts about cell signaling proteins.

The Virtual Cell

A unique software modeling environment for quantitative cell biological research developed by the National Resource for Cell Analysis and Modeling.

Systems Biology Links

A useful collection of annotated links form, the virtual library of biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology.

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10 Bienvenu, ITER

See Web links on ITER

After 18 months of often bitter wrangling, the $12 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) has a home at last. In June, international negotiators broke a diplomatic deadlock over whether to build ITER at Cadarache in southern France or in Rokkasho, Japan. The winner: Cadarache.

The basic concept behind ITER—using superconducting electromagnets to hold a plasma of hydrogen isotopes at a temperature and pressure high enough to achieve nuclear fusion—was born in the 1980s. But the design effort, split among centers in Europe, Japan, and the United States, didn't always go smoothly. In the late 1990s, after the engineering design was complete, governments balked at the price and asked the designers to cut the construction cost by half. The United States withdrew from the project in 1999, only to rejoin in 2003. By late 2003, only one hurdle remained: choosing the site. Government ministers from the by-then six members—China, the European Union (E.U.), Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States—gathered in Washington, D.C., for a gala signing ceremony. But when the time came to vote, they split down the middle.

Closing the circle.

After 20 years of research, usion scientists are ready to start building the TER reactor.


More technical studies of the two sites were carried out, but both sides dug in their heels. Rumors of political skullduggery abounded: Europeans suspected that the United States refused to support the French site to punish France for opposing the war in Iraq, while other whispers suggested that the United States had backed the Japanese site in exchange for Japan's support for the war. In the end, Japan and the E.U. hammered out a deal between themselves. In June this year, after months of delicate diplomacy, Japan withdrew Rokkasho in exchange for a bigger share of construction contracts and a hefty European contribution to a fusion research facility in Japan.

Now ITER researchers can look forward to a few decades working under the warm Mediterranean sun. And who knows? The world may get a working fusion reactor at last.

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Papers and Articles

D. Clery and D. Normile, “ITER Rivals Agree to Terms; Site Said to Be Cadarache,” Science 308, 934 (2005)

D. Clery and D. Normile, “ITER Finds a Home—With a Whopping Mortgage,” Science 309, 28 (2005)

K. Krushelnick and S. Cowley, “Reduced Turbulence and New Opportunities for Fusion,” Science 309, 1502 (2005)

Interesting Web Sites


The official Web site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

Cadarache ITER Web site

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL)

PPPL, which will host the U.S. ITER project office, offers an introduction to ITER.

PPPL's FIRE (Fusion Ignition Research Experiment)

Maintains up-to-date ITER project news.

U.S. Fusion Energy Science Program

An information page on ITER is provided.


Encyclopedia article in Wikipedia.

“What will we learn from ITER?”

An article by J. Lister and H. Weisen from the March-April 2005 issue of Europhysics News.


An educational resource on fusion energy from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

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