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Article Released Wed-25th-February-2009 18:24 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 The changing face of HIV

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Prehistoric sex, The missing asteroid mystery, Melding brain and machine, Unexpected prion link in Alzheimer’s disease, Atlantic seesaw, Friction on a small scale and Giant sand dune formation explained


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.457 NO.7233 DATED 26 FEBRUARY 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Relics: Prehistoric sex

Astronomy: The missing asteroid mystery

Immunology: The changing face of HIV

Commentary: Melding brain and machine

Neuroscience: Unexpected prion link in Alzheimer’s disease

Climate: Atlantic seesaw

Physics: Friction on a small scale

And finally… Giant sand dune formation explained

· Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo

· Geographical listing of authors

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Relics: Prehistoric sex (pp 1124-1127; N&V)

Evidence of reproduction by internal fertilization is presented in Nature this week, in the form of embryos within fossil specimens from a large and diverse group of placoderms — among the most primitive of all jawed vertebrates, and now wholly extinct. Uncovering reproductive biology in the fossil record is extremely rare, and although evidence has been found in a smaller group of placoderms, this new discovery confirms that live birth was much more widespread than has previously been appreciated.

The embryos are revealed inside stone ‘pods’, found in the Upper Devonian Gogo Formation of Western Australia, from around 380 million years ago. The research provides the first glimpse of internal fertilization in the placoderm Incisoscutum ritchiei, and the team show that Incisoscutum had pelvic girdles of the right structure to support organs like the claspers of sharks, used for internal fertilization. The observations by John Long and colleagues provide new data to contribute to an ongoing debate concerning the origins and interrelationships of the first jawed vertebrates.

John Long (Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia)
Tel: +61 3 9428 5383; E-mail:

Per Ahlberg (Uppsala University, Sweden) N&V author
Tel: +46 18 47 12 641; E-mail:
[1] Astronomy: The missing asteroid mystery (pp 1109-1111; N&V)

The main asteroid belt may have been restructured by Jupiter and Saturn as the giant planets migrated to their present orbits around 4 billion years ago, a Nature paper suggests.

The main asteroid belt lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, but it is not uniformly filled with asteroids — there are gaps, called Kirkwood gaps, in distinct locations. Some of these gaps correspond to unstable zones, where the gravitational influence of Jupiter and Saturn will eject them. But some gaps are in zones that are currently stable, David Minton and Renu Malhotra report. These missing asteroids are likely to have been ejected during the migration of Jupiter and Saturn as the changing orbits of the planets caused different regions of the belt to be unstable.

David Minton (The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA)
Tel: +1 520 621 7274; E-mail:

Renu Malhotra (The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA)
Tel: +1 520 626 5899; E-mail:

Kevin Walsh (Observatoire de la Cote D'Azur, Nice, France) N&V author
Tel: +33 4 9200 1944; E-mail:

[2] Immunology: The changing face of HIV (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature07746

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 25 February 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 26 February, but at a later date. ***

HIV is adapting to key elements of the human immune response, a Nature paper reveals. Successful vaccines will need to keep pace with the changing immunological profile of the virus.

There is a correlation between the prevalence of HIV mutations that help the virus evade detection by the host and human gene variants linked to immune recognition, Philip Goulder and colleagues report. The team arrived at their conclusions after analysing genetic data from more than 2,800 HIV-infected people from 5 different continents.

In particular, they looked at different human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles — a group of molecules that orchestrate the human immune response — and HIV sequence variants. HLA molecules present fragments of HIV proteins on the surface of infected cells to the immune system, so that they can be destroyed. But the virus is evolving so-called escape mutations that help it avoid this.


Philip Goulder (Oxford University, UK)
Tel: +44 1865 281884; E-mail:

Commentary: Melding brain and machine (pp 1080-1081)

What happens when the barrier between brain and computer begins to dissolve? In a Commentary in this week’s Nature, Jens Clausen explores the present and future prospects of brain–machine interfaces. He says that key safety issues must be resolved, but that the ethical questions raised pose few new challenges.

Intricate connections between software, hardware and grey matter are already being wired. Cochlear implants can restore hearing, and deep brain stimulation is used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. More of these types of technologies are on the horizon — brain-controlled prosthetic devices, for example, are already being tested.

As technology advances, research on human subjects is unavoidable. Clausen argues that “the ethical problems that these technologies pose are not vastly different from those presented by existing therapies such as antidepressants”, but they still require special consideration due to the delicate nature of the brain. He examines some of the options for broadening research in this area.

Jens Clausen (University of Tubingen, Germany)
Tel: +49 7071 29 78031; E-mail:

[3] Neuroscience: Unexpected prion link in Alzheimer’s disease (pp 1128-1132; N&V)

Amyloid-beta, a protein well known for its role in Alzheimer’s disease, may yield its damaging effects on neurons by binding to the cellular prion protein (PrPC), a paper published in this week’s Nature suggests. This could make PrPC a potential target for Alzheimer’s disease therapeutics.

Misfolded variants of PrPC have been implicated in prion diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), but the normal endogenous version is found in many types of cell. In neurons, PrPC appears to act as a receptor for the amyloid-beta protein, Stephen Strittmatter and colleagues report. Moreover, they show that the deleterious effects of amyloid-beta on long-term potentiation in brain slices, an experimental model for learning and memory, are mediated by PrPC.

Stephen Strittmatter (Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA)
Tel: +1 203 785 4878; E-mail:

Lennart Mucke (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 415 734 2504; E-mail:

[4] Climate: Atlantic seesaw (pp 1097-1102; N&V)

Northern and Southern Hemisphere climates may be seesawing over millennial timescales, a Nature paper suggests.

At the end of the last ice age, the South Atlantic cooled as the North Atlantic warmed, report Stephen Barker and colleagues, who analysed a sediment core from the South Atlantic.

Although previous work has shown a damped and slow response in Antarctica, this is the first concrete evidence of an immediate seesaw connection between the North and South Atlantic, and backs up previous theoretical models. The results emphasize the importance of the Southern Ocean in millennial-scale climate changes, and should help inform future climate change predictions.

Stephen Barker (Cardiff University, UK)
Tel: +44 29 20874328; E-mail:

Jeffrey Severinghaus (Scripps Institution of Oceangraphy, La Jolla, CA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 858 822 2483; E-mail:

[5] Physics: Friction on a small scale (pp 1116-1119)

A simple friction law that operates at the nanoscale is revealed in this week’s Nature. The paper reveals how macroscopic laws of friction can sometimes be applied to the very small.

When large objects slide over one another, the friction generated is proportional to the true contact area between them. However, the true contact area is smaller than the apparent contact area because the surfaces are rough, consisting of many smaller features, called asperities, that make contact. Izabela Szlufarska and colleagues show that a related idea holds for contacts at the nanoscale: the friction force depends linearly on the number of atoms, rather than asperities, that chemically interact.

Izabela Szlufarska (University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA)
Tel: +1 608 265 5878; E-mail:

[6] And finally… Giant sand dune formation explained (pp 1120-1123)

The size of giant sand dunes is determined by the average depth of the atmospheric boundary layer, a Nature paper suggests. The finding could help researchers to model how deserts will change over time.

Philippe Claudin and colleagues use a combination of field measurements and aerodynamic calculations to show that the lowest atmospheric layer acts like the surface of a river, influencing the shape and size of giant, kilometre-scale sand dunes. Small-scale sand dunes are thought to be formed by different mechanisms.

Philippe Claudin (École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, Paris, France)
Tel: +33 1 40 79 45 50; E-mail:


[7] A mechanosensitive transcriptional mechanism that controls angiogenesis (pp 1103-1108)

[8] Large positive magnetoresistive effect in silicon induced by the space-charge effect (pp 1112-1115)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 25 February 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 them on this release to avoid multiple mailings they will not appear in print on 26 February, but at a later date. ***

[9] FGF signalling during embryo development regulates cilia length in diverse epithelia
DOI: 10.1038/nature07753

[10] Clustering of InsP3 receptors by InsP3 retunes their regulation by InsP3 and Ca21
DOI: 10.1038/nature07763

[11] Identification of IFRD1 as a modifier gene for cystic fibrosis lung disease
DOI: 10.1038/nature07811


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.

Tlemcen: 6

Perth: 2

Innsbruck: 11

Bridgetown: 2

Gabarone: 2

Vancouver: 2

Angers: 4
Paris: 6

Berlin: 10
Bremerhaven: 4

Kumamoto: 2
Tokyo: 2
Uji: 8

Durban: 2

Barcelona: 2

Cambridge: 4, 10
Cardiff: 4
Isle of Wight: 11
London: 2
Oxford: 2


Birmingham: 2

Tucson: 1

New Haven: 3

Atlanta: 2

Baltimore: 11
Chevy Chase: 2

Boston: 2, 7
Cambridge: 7

East Lansing: 11

New York
Palisades: 4
Syracuse: 9

North Carolina
Chapel Hill: 11
Durham: 6
Winston-Salem: 11

Cincinnati: 11
Cleveland: 11

Oklahoma City: 11

Salt Lake City: 9

Redmond: 2

Madison: 5

Lusaka: 2


From North America and Canada
Katherine Anderson, Nature New York
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail:

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

From Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

From the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Jen Middleton, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail

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Keywords associated to this article: Relics, Astronomy, Immunology, brain, machine, Neuroscience, Climate, Physics, sand dune formation
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