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Article Released Thu-21st-May-2009 12:12 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Pandemic flu: Communication is crucial

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Early Mars cold and wet?, Are you in charge of your weight?, Optical device records in 5D, Early microbes took some battering, How Down’s syndrome protects, DNA genie bottle assembles itself


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.459 NO.7245 DATED 21 MAY 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Astrobiology: Early Mars cold and wet?

Q&A: Are you in charge of your weight?

Photonics: Optical device records in 5D

Geological science: Early microbes took some battering

Cancer: How Down’s syndrome protects

Pandemic flu: Communication is crucial

And finally… DNA genie bottle assembles itself

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Astrobiology: Early Mars cold and wet? (pp 401-404)

The early Martian landscape may well have been cold and wet, a Nature paper suggests.

Many features of the martian landscape are thought to have been formed by liquid water, but evidence also suggests that early Mars was cold with temperatures well below the freezing point of pure water. Alberto Fairén and colleagues address this paradox with their modelling study, which suggests that fluids containing dissolved minerals would have remained liquid at temperatures well below 273 kelvin.

The team chose compositions based on weathered basalts for the Martian fluids in the model, to match the chemical compositions of rock found at Mars landing sites. The model is compatible with climate models, as well as Mars orbiter and lander data.


Alberto Fairén (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain)
Tel: +34 600 436 405; E-mail:

Q&A: Are you in charge of your weight? (pp 340-342)

An inactive Western lifestyle, with its free availability of calories, has often been blamed for the rising incidence of obesity throughout the world in the past few decades. In a Nature News & Views Q&A, molecular geneticist Jeffrey Friedman argues that, although lifestyle contributes to body weight, biological factors have a much more prominent role. He also suggests that current levels of obesity and the prognosis for the future may not be as bad as we think.

Hold your breath for a few seconds, and your body eventually forces you to breathe. Similarly, Friedman suggests, a conscious desire to lose weight is counteracted by a basic biological drive to return to the original weight. Is it then worth going on a diet or doing more exercise? Yes, says Friedman. This is because the risk of developing obesity-associated diseases — including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers — can be reduced even with moderate weight loss, before the biological factors that resist weight change kick in.

As for his answer to the increasing incidence of obesity, first, he says, the relevant statistics are subject to different interpretations and the picture might not be as bleak as it is made out to be. Second, weight gain is evolution’s answer to avoiding starvation, and, with decreasing risk of starvation, the high incidence of obesity should eventually level off.

Jeffrey Friedman (The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 212 327 8800; E-mail:

[2] Photonics: Optical device records in 5D (pp 410-413)

A new optical device that records in five dimensions could boost the storage capacity of optical recording technologies, such as DVDs. It’s thought that the technique, revealed in this week’s Nature, could find immediate application in the fields of encryption and data storage.

The apparatus, devised by James Chon and colleagues, contains tiny gold rods that form so-called surface plasmons when hit by light. This enables the device to record in the three standard spatial dimensions, as well as taking the polarization and wavelength of light into account. With the new technology on board, it’s thought the average DVD could store a massive 1.6 terabytes of data.

James Chon (Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia)
Tel: +61 3 9214 4326; E-mail:

[3] Geological science: Early microbes took some battering (pp 419-422; N&V)

Subsurface microbes could have survived the multiple impacts suffered by the early Earth around 3.9 billion years ago, a Nature paper suggests. The findings have implications for our understanding of the evolution of life on our planet.

During the late heavy bombardment (LHB), it’s thought that the Earth took a major pounding from wayward asteroids, with knock-on effects for the Earth’s crust, the emergent biosphere and any early life forms. A modelling study by Oleg Abramov and Stephen Mojzsis predicts how the Earth’s crust might have changed during this time, suggesting that the Earth’s habitable zone could not have been fully sterilized. Subsurface microbial life, they conclude, could have persisted throughout the bombardment.

The duo also proposes that multiple, impact-induced temperature anomalies could have driven widespread hydrothermal activity, and that this was conducive to life’s emergence and early diversification.


Oleg Abramov (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA)
Tel: +1 303 735 2413; E-mail:

Stephen Mojzsis (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA)
Tel: +1 303 492 5014; E-mail:

Lynn Rothschild (NASA-Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 650 604 6525; E-mail:

[4] Cancer: How Down’s syndrome protects (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08062

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 20 May 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 21 May, but at a later date. ***

A genetic explanation for why people with Down’s syndrome have a reduced incidence of solid cancers is reported in this week’s Nature. The findings identify potential targets for tumour prevention and therapy.

Down’s syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21. It’s been known for some time that individuals with Down’s syndrome get certain types of cancer less often than those without the condition, although until now little was known about why. Sandra Ryeom and colleagues show that having an extra copy of one of the genes located on chromosome 21, Dscr1, is sufficient to slow cancer growth in a mouse model. Dscr1 seems to work in conjunction with another chromosome 21 gene, Dyrk1a, by interfering with the calcineurin signalling pathway that allows tumours to grow their own blood supply.

The findings offer a mechanism for the reduced frequency of solid cancers in Down’s syndrome, and highlight the calcineurin pathway as a potential avenue for therapeutic intervention in cancer.

Sandra Ryeom (Children's Hospital of Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 919 2345; E-mail:

Pandemic flu: Communication is crucial (pp 324-325; 322-323)

Whatever happens next with the swine-flu outbreak — whether it worsens or dies away — good communication is key to preparing the public, say two opinion authors in this week’s Nature.

In an Essay, writer and academic John Barry argues that after vaccines, the most important weapon against the disease is communication. “Only by knowing the truth can imaginary horrors be transformed into concrete realities. And only then can people start to deal with those realities, and do so without panic,” says Barry. He illustrates this with a lesson from history. The US response to the ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918 was to try to reassure the public and stop them worrying, even as bodies piled up. This led to panic, and as telephone exchanges shut down, trains stopped and grocers and coal sellers closed, society threatened to fall apart. In a few rare cases, as in San Francisco, better communication led to better results.

And in a related Commentary, risk-communication specialist Peter Sandman agrees that a well-informed public can play an active role in fighting a pandemic, rather than becoming passive victims. In the current outbreak, says Sandman, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s performance has been superb in terms of explaining the nature of the swine-flu outbreak and the uncertainties surrounding it. But they could do more to help the public understand what a pandemic would be like. “For the ordinary citizen, the US government has so far only recommended hygiene,” writes Sandman. It needs to encourage active preparations, such as stocking up on food, water, medicine and other key supplies. These preparations are essential even when a pandemic is uncertain.


John Barry (Center for Bioenvironmental Research of Tulane and Xavier Universities, New Orleans, LA, USA) Essay author
Tel: +1504 988 6910; E-mail:

Peter Sandman (Princeton, NJ, USA) Commentary author
Tel: +1 609 683 4073; E-mail: Email:

[5] And finally… DNA genie bottle assembles itself (pp 414-418; N&V)

A variety of complex self-assembled DNA shapes are revealed in this week’s Nature. It’s thought the method used to produce them could help make custom devices with nanometre-scale features.

Researchers have coaxed DNA to self-assemble into specific two- and three-dimensional shapes before, but not with this level of complexity. William Shih and colleagues can now produce three-dimensional DNA objects forming a range of shapes, at a scale of 10 to 100 nanometres. Here, they unveil a variety of self-assembled DNA objects, including a genie bottle, monolith and railed bridge.

Although the shapes can take a week or more to self-assemble, the authors manage to obtain an impressive degree of control over the positions of the various DNA helices. They do it by arranging the DNA helices into pleated strands, which are then assembled into a honeycomb-like three-dimensional structure linked by phosphate groups between the various strands.


William Shih (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 632 5143; E-mail:

Thomas LaBean (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 919 660 1565; E-mail:


[6] The origin of the electrostatic perturbation in acetoacetate decarboxylase (pp 393-397)

[7] Non-radial modes with long lifetimes in giant stars (pp 398-400)

[8] Breakdown of the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer Ground State at a Quantum Phase Transition (pp 405-409)

[9] Crystal structure of the sodium–potassium pump at 2.4A° resolution (pp 446-450)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 20 May 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 21 May, but at a later date. ***

[10] The RNA-binding Protein KSRP Promotes the Biogenesis of a Subset of miRNAs.
DOI: 10.1038/nature08025

[11] Reconstitution of Rab- and SNARE-dependent membrane fusion by synthetic endosomes
DOI: 10.1038/nature08107


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.

Melbourne: 2

Vienna: 7

Brussels: 7
Leuven: 7

Aarhus: 9

Marseille: 7
Paris: 7

Dresden: 11
Tautenburg: 7

Genova: 10

Tokyo: 4, 9

Warsaw: 11

Moscow: 11

Madrid: 1
Vigo: 1

Basel: 10

Cambridge: 8
London: 10


La Jolla: 10
Menlo Park: 6
Moffett Field: 1

Boulder: 3

Argonne: 8
Chicago: 8

Baltimore: 4
Bethesda: 4

Boston: 4, 5, 6
Cambridge: 5, 8

Salt Lake City: 4


From North America and Canada
Neda Afsarmanesh, 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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