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Article Released Wed-7th-March-2007 19:28 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Cancer genomes probed

Commentary: Trial and distribution, Hydrology: Water on Mars revisited, Materials: Silica to silicon, Evolution: Small genome paved the way for flight?, Plant biology: Size matters, Planetary science: Sun makes an asteroid spin faster


This press release is copyright Nature. VOL.446 NO.7132 DATED 08 MARCH 2007

This press release contains:

* Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Oncology: Cancer genomes probed

Commentary: Trial and distribution

Hydrology: Water on Mars revisited

Materials: Silica to silicon

Evolution: Small genome paved the way for flight?

Plant biology: Size matters

Planetary science: Sun makes an asteroid spin faster

* Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo
* Geographical listing of authors

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[1] & [2] Oncology: Cancer genomes probed (pp 153-158; N&V; AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05690

Biologists have sequenced over 500 protein kinase genes found in 210 diverse human cancers and identified over 1,000 different mutations. It’s thought the results, which swell the number of known cancer genes, will fuel therapeutic development and extend our understanding of cancer biology.

Genes belonging to the protein kinase family encode proteins that modify other proteins by adding phosphate groups to them. P. Andrew Futreal, Michael Stratton and colleagues chose to sequence them in cancer samples because disregulated kinase activity can trigger tumours, and the proteins are amongst the most tractable family of potential anticancer drug targets. Their results are presented in this week’s Nature.

There was substantial variation in the number and pattern of mutations in individual cancers. And whilst most of these mutations are likely to be 'passengers' that don't contribute to cancer formation, around 120 are thought to be 'driver' mutations that contribute to the development of the disease.

In another paper being published online this week in Nature, James R. Downing and colleagues identify a number of genetic mutations in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). They performed a genome-wide analysis of leukaemic cells from 242 paediatric ALL patients, using high-resolution single nucleotide polymorphism arrays and genomic DNA sequencing. Their data demonstrate the power of such approaches to improve our understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of cancer, and show that it is possible to pinpoint altered genes and pathways for further analysis.


Paper [1]:

P. Andrew Futreal (The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK)
Please note the author is travelling and it may be best to contact:

Don Powell (Press and PR, The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK)
Tel: +44 1223 494 956; E-mail:

Daniel Haber (Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 617 726 7805; E-mail:

A telephone briefing related to paper [1] will take place UNDER STRICT EMBARGO on:
Tuesday 06 March at 1400 London time (GMT) / 0900 US Eastern time

For reporters calling from the United Kingdom: 0845 359 0170
For reporters calling from outside the United Kingdom: +44 20 3003 2666
Conference password: Nature Press Briefing

Andy Futreal and Mike Stratton will speak about their research followed by questions from media.

For more information please contact: Helen Jamison, Nature London
Tel: +44 207 843 4658; E-mail:

Paper [2]:

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 07 March at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 08 March, but at a later date.***

James R. Downing (St Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, TN, USA)
Tel: +1 901 495 3510; E-mail:

Commentary: Trial and distribution (pp 137-138)

Patients undergoing treatment in clinical trials would benefit from a more equal partnership between academia and the pharmaceutical industry argues a Commentary in Nature this week. Martine Piccart and Aron Goldhirsch, part of international consortium of academic breast cancer groups, believe trials designed and controlled purely by the drug companies may fail the best interests of patients in several ways.

Financial resources provided by the pharmaceutical industry exceed government or philanthropic grants, so academic partnership with industry is often essential. However the authors are wary of companies recruiting investigators to conduct trials in which the data will be controlled by the company. There are many conflicts inherent in the clinical trials process but if a trial focuses solely on commercial questions then opportunities to address additional issues may be lost. Commercial interests can also distort trial design or affect whether results are published in full. Transparency is important for both patients and industry and better partnerships will help achieve this aim.

The authors highlight recent successful partnerships in large-scale breast cancer trials where data has been held and analysed by an independent committee including a consumer representative and academic statistician. This model reduces bias and conflicts of interest and should ultimately lead to improved outcomes for patient treatments.

Martine Piccart (Institut Jules Bordet, Brussels, Belgium)
Tel: +32 2 541 3206; E-mail:

Aron Goldhirsch (European Institute of Oncology, Italy & Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland, Viganello-Lugano, Switzerland)

Tel: +41 91 811 7923; E-mail:

[3] Hydrology: Water on Mars revisited (pp 163-166; N&V)

Researchers have come up with an alternative theory to explain the presence of evaporite deposits on Mars. The sulphate-rich sediments, thought by some to be the remnants of long-since evaporated oceans of water, may instead have been formed as water flowed out of the planet's surface and evaporated.

When the Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover landed, its discovery of evaporite deposits in the Meridiani Planum region was hailed by some as evidence for liquid water having been stable on the surface of Mars over significant periods of the distant past. But the interpretation was not without critics, who cite the lack of an enclosed basin at the Meridiani Planum site as one potential problem.

In this week's Nature, Jeffrey C. Andrews-Hanna and colleagues present the results of a modelling study looking at the planet's global hydrology. Their model predicts where water would have flowed out of the martian surface over time, and highlights the Meridiani Planum area as one of the regions where significant evaporite deposits should have formed. They therefore suggest that pools of standing water are not necessary to explain the formation and distribution of evaporite deposits on Mars.


Jeffrey C. Andrews-Hanna (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 833 8754; E-mail:

Victor R. Baker (University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 520 621 7875 or 7120; E-mail:

[4] Materials: Silica to silicon (pp 172-175; N&V)

Scientists have discovered a way to turn silica into silicon whilst keeping the original morphology intact. The method, reported in this week's Nature, could be used to transform complex microscale silica structures, which have been generated synthetically, into silicon.

Kenneth H. Sandhage and colleagues used the approach to convert the silica-based cell walls of diatoms (a type of unicellular algae) into silicon, and then demonstrate that the resulting structures can function well as microscale gas sensors.


Kenneth H. Sandhage (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA)
Tel: +1 404 894 6882; E-mail:

David J. Norris (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 612 625 2043; E-mail:

[5] Evolution: Small genome paved the way for flight? (pp 180-184)

The dinosaur group that gave rise to birds probably had small, ‘bird-sized’ genomes, a Nature paper suggests. The results hint that genome reduction may have one of the features that predisposed animals to take flight.

Genome reduction is one of the less well-known correlates of flight in vertebrates - birds have remarkably small genomes compared with other vertebrates, and bats tend to have smaller genomes compared with those of non-flying mammals. Chris L. Organ and colleagues used a combination of histology and advanced statistical techniques to estimate the genome sizes of 31 species of extinct dinosaurs, including several species of extinct birds.

Their results suggest that the small genomes typically associated with avian flight evolved in saurischian dinosaurs - the dinosaur group of which birds are the only surviving members - between 230 and 250 million years ago, long before the first birds took to the skies. Ornithischian dinosaurs - a different lineage that gave rise only to terrestrial dinosaurs - had much larger genomes.

Shrunken genomes should, say the researchers, be added to the list of features once considered bird-like but now thought to have arisen in non-avian dinosaurs, such as feathers, parental care and nesting.


Chris L. Organ (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 496 9389; E-mail:

[6] Plant biology: Size matters (pp 199-202; N&V)

Biologists believe they have identified which cell type helps plants achieve their final size. Their discovery, reported in this week’s Nature, should help settle a debate that has been ongoing for over a century.

How multicellular organisms achieve their final size is unclear, but in plants it’s known that growth involves the coordination of cell division and expansion. Plant shoots are derived from three tissue types - the epidermal, sub-epidermal and inner cell tissues. But whether plant growth is driven by expansion of the inner layers with restriction by the epidermis or by promotion of growth in the epidermis is debated. Joanne Chory and colleagues now show that the epidermis can both drive and restrict plant shoot growth.


Joanne Chory (The Salk Institute & Howard Hughes Medical Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 552 1148; E-mail:

Ben Scheres (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) N&V author
Tel: +31 30 2533 133; E-mail:


[7] An ancient nova shell around the dwarf nova Z Camelopardalis (pp 159-162)

[8] Observation of the two-channel Kondo effect (pp 167-171)

[9] Endonuclease-independent LINE-1 retrotransposition at mammalian telomeres (pp 208-212)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 07 March at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 08 March, but at a later date.***

[10] Strain-resolved community proteomics reveals recombining genomes of acidophilic bacteria

DOI: 10.1038/nature05624

Planetary science: Sun makes an asteroid spin faster (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature05614

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 07 March at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 08 March, but at a later date.***

Over the last 40 years, the rotational speed of asteroid 1862 Apollo has increased so much that it can rotate one extra time during its journey around the Sun, a Nature paper published online reveals. Most asteroids are asymmetrical, so reflect different amounts of light at different times as they spin around. The periodic dips in light curves can therefore be used to help researchers calculate an asteroid's rotation rate. Mikko Kaasalainen and colleagues did just this for asteroid 1862 Apollo, and found that over the last 40 years it has accrued one extra rotation per orbit around the Sun.

The asteroid has been spun up by the YORP effect, which is when reflected and re-radiated solar energy from asymmetrical objects acts as an engine. When a large part of the asteroid's surface facing the Sun rotates into the cold, it radiates more infrared than does a region with a smaller surface area, and this alters the spin of the asteroid.

The finding confirms the prediction that YORP plays a significant role in asteroid evolution, as well as offering insights into the evolution and dynamics of the broader Solar System.

Two related papers, also embargoed until 1800 London time (GMT) / 1300 US Eastern Time Wednesday 07 March, will appear in the journal Science. These papers are available to registered reporters at <>

Mikko Kaasalainen (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Tel: +358 9 1915 1441; E-mail:


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. For example, London: 4 - this means that on paper number four, there will be at least one author affiliated to an institute or company in London. The listing may be for an author's main affiliation, or for a place where they are working temporarily. Please see the PDF of the paper for full details.


Herston: 1


Brussels: 1


Hong Kong: 1


Ramat-Aviv: 7

Rehovot: 8


Rotterdam: 1


Cambridge: 1

London: 1

Reading: 5



Tucson: 7


Berkeley: 10

La Jolla: 6

Livermore: 10

Los Angeles: 7

Pasadena: 7

Stanford: 8

Walnut Creek: 10


Atlanta: 4


Bloomington: 7


Baltimore: 9


Boston: 1, 9

Cambridge: 3, 5, 8


Ann Arbor: 9

Grand Rapids: 1


St Louis: 3

New York

New York: 2, 7


Philadelphia: 1

Wynnewood: 9


Memphis: 2

Oak Ridge: 10


Austin: 8


For North America and Canada

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington

Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan

Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above

Helen Jamison, Nature London

Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail

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Keywords associated to this article: Oncology, Hydrology, Materials, Evolution, Plant biology, Planetary science
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