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Article Released Wed-24th-June-2009 17:11 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Press Release - Evolution of a malaria resistance gene in wild primates

Summaries of newsworthy papers include The sea inside, Thalidomide birth defects not a patterning problem, Cancer protein may prove useful biomarker, Pathway to longevity and Lumpy stream caught on camera


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.459 NO.7250 DATED 25 JUNE 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Planetary science: The sea inside

Genetics: Evolution of a malaria resistance gene in wild primates

Developmental biology: Thalidomide birth defects not a patterning problem

Cancer: Cancer protein may prove useful biomarker

Ageing: Pathway to longevity

And finally… Lumpy stream caught on camera

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

· Geographical listing of authors

Editorial contacts: While the best contacts for stories will always be the authors themselves, in some cases the Nature editor who handled the paper will be available for comment if an author is unobtainable. Editors are contactable via Ruth Francis on +44 20 7843 4562. Feel free to get in touch with Nature's press contacts in London, Washington and Tokyo (as listed at the end of this release) with any general editorial inquiry.

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[1] & [2] Planetary science: The sea inside (pp 1098-1101; 1102-1104; N&V)

Scientists have discovered sodium salts ejected from volcanic plumes on Enceladus, one of the moons of Saturn. The salt particles provide the strongest evidence yet that these plumes are supplied by a liquid ocean beneath the moon’s surface, and could solve one of the most controversial issues in planetary science.

Enceladus is one of three bodies in the outer Solar System on which active eruptions have been observed. Recent images from the spacecraft Cassini have revealed Yellowstone-like geysers at the south pole — plumes of water vapour and ice particles now thought to be the main source for Saturn’s outermost ‘E’ ring. The plumes indicate there could be a reservoir of water beneath the surface, but it is not clear whether a liquid ocean still exists today or whether it has frozen.

In this week’s Nature, Frank Postberg and colleagues analyse the composition of ice particles in the E ring, and find evidence for sodium — an element considered a crucial indicator for a liquid ocean. The authors suggest that the salty minerals were washed out from rock at the bottom of the sea, in a process similar to what happens on Earth.

In a separate paper, Nicholas Schneider and colleagues use telescope observations to search for sodium in the plume material itself. They find an upper limit on the sodium content in the plume vapour well below what would be expected if there were a salty subsurface ocean. This lack of observable sodium in the vapour is consistent with several alternative sources for the plumes such as a deep ocean, a freshwater reservoir, or ice.

Frank Postberg (Max-Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg, Germany) Author paper [1]
Tel: +49 6221 516 543; E-mail:

Nicholas Schneider (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA) Author paper [2]
Tel: +1 303 492 7677; E-mail:

John Spencer (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 303 546 9674; E-mail:

[3] Genetics: Evolution of a malaria resistance gene in wild primates (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 24 June 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 25 June, but at a later date. ***

A genetic variation has been linked to the emergence of malaria resistance in wild baboons, the first time that a specific DNA change has been linked to a complex trait in a natural population of non-human primates. The results, reported in this week’s Nature, suggest that the genetic basis of complex traits may show parallels across different primate species.

Jenny Tung and colleagues analysed blood samples from 190 yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus) living in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. Six single-base-pair changes were spotted in a regulatory region of the malaria-related FY gene. Genetic variation in this region —was associated with variation in susceptibility to a malaria-like pathogen and also influenced gene expression in vivo in wild animals.

Understanding the ecology, behaviour and genetics of non-human primates should shed light on our own evolution, yet functional genetic analyses like this one are rare. This study suggests that the evolution of malaria resistance in wild baboons shares mechanistic and evolutionary parallels with the similar genetic region in humans.

Jenny Tung (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA)
Tel: +1 919 668 6249; E-mail:

[4] Developmental biology: Thalidomide birth defects not a patterning problem (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 24 June 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 25 June, but at a later date. ***

Thalidomide-induced limb abnormalities may reflect a ‘precursor’ rather than a ‘patterning’ problem, a Nature study suggests. The study, which forces a rethink of a prominent limb development model, suggests a previously unappreciated cause for phocomelia birth defects.

Phocomelia, a rare, devastating, congenital limb malformation in which long bones are shortened, has been presumed to be a patterning disorder in which genes related to body layout go off-kilter. But Clifford Tabin and colleagues use a chick limb bud X-irradiation model to show that the disorder arises, not from a patterning defect, but from the loss of skeletal progenitor cells.

The demonstration that ‘shoulder-to-finger’ patterning is unaffected by X-irradiation challenges a classic theory of limb development. Past studies of X-irradiation-induced phocomelia provided corroborative evidence for the progress zone model of development, whereby cell identity is determined by the time spent at the apex of the limb bud or ‘progress zone’. However, the current results are the latest in a series that contradict this model.

Clifford Tabin (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 432 7618; E-mail:

[5] Cancer: Cancer protein may prove useful biomarker (pp 1085-1090)

A new cancer-causing gene with biomarker potential is revealed in this week’s Nature.

The gene encodes a protein called GOLPH3, which is found in a stacked cellular organelle known as the Golgi apparatus. GOLPH3 has previously been found to be amplified in many human tumours. Lynda Chin and colleagues now show that expressing more of this protein activates the mTOR signalling pathway, implicated in nearly all cancers, and makes mouse and human cells become cancerous. However, having more GOLPH3 also renders cancer cells more sensitive to the cancer drug rapamycin, which works by inhibiting the mTOR pathway.

Drugs that target the mTOR pathway are currently an intense focus of cancer drug development, but the clinical response to rapamycin and its analogues has been feeble. The authors hope that GOLPH3 levels may help predict sensitivity to mTOR inhibitors, but the protein’s predictive value as a biomarker has yet to be demonstrated.

Lynda Chin (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, USA)
Tel: +1 617 632 6091; E-mail:

[6] Ageing: Pathway to longevity (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 24 June 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 25 June, but at a later date. ***

A signalling pathway best known for its role in protein degradation has been implicated in diet-restriction-induced longevity. A detailed understanding of the pathways that mediate the benefits of dietary restriction may lead to new therapies for age-related diseases.

The ubiquitination pathway gives proteins a chemical label that tags them for degradation. Two molecules in this pathway, WWP-1 and UBC-18, are now proven essential for the increased lifespan of nematode worms on reduced food intake. The proteins work together to regulate diet-restriction-induced longevity, Andrew Dillin and colleagues show. Overexpressing wwp-1 in worms given unlimited access to food still manages to extend their lifespan by up to 20%, the team report in this week’s Nature.

Diet-restriction-induced longevity has been observed in many different species, including yeast and mice. Although found in worms, it’s thought that these proteins represent the first elements of a conserved genetic pathway that regulates the phenomena in the animal kingdom.

Andrew Dillin (The Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 453 4100; E-mail:

[7] And finally… Lumpy stream caught on camera (pp 1110-1113; N&V)

A stream of fine glass grains has been filmed breaking into droplets as it falls under gravity, revealing — in combination with atomic force microscope measurements — the mechanism that causes the grains to cluster. The findings, revealed in this week’s Nature, provide new understanding of how liquid-like characteristics arise in granular systems at the microscopic level.

A freely falling stream of water breaks into droplets because of an instability arising from surface tension. A freely falling stream of sand generates a similar pattern but the reason was puzzling because grains are generally thought to lack surface tension. Heinrich Jaeger and colleagues use high-speed imaging and microscopy to reveal that tiny cohesive forces are responsible, corresponding to an effective surface tension some 100,000 times weaker than that found in ordinary liquids.

The results open up new territory for which there is at present no theoretical framework. And given that freely falling granular streams are sensitive probes of minute forces, they also provide a useful tool with which to measure cohesive energies in granular systems.

Heinrich Jaeger (University of Chicago, IL, USA)
Tel: +1 773 702 6074; E-mail:

Detlef Lohse (University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands) N&V author
Tel: +31 53 489 8076; E-mail:


[8] Optically Controlled Locking of the Nuclear Field via Coherent Dark State Spectroscopy (pp 1105-1109)

[9] Enhanced Carbon Pump Inferred from Relaxation of Nutrient Limitation in the GlacialOcean (pp 1114-1117)

[10] Neodymium-142 evidence for an enriched Hadean reservoir in cratonic roots (pp 1118-1121)

[11] Yurt, Coracle, Neurexin IV and the Na+/K+-ATPase form a novel group of epithelial
polarity proteins (pp 1141-1145)


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.

Quebec: 11
Toronto: 11

Hong Kong: 8

Braunschweig: 1
Goettingen: 1
Heidelberg: 1
Leipzig: 1
Munster: 10
Potsdam: 1

Dublin: 7

Nairobi: 3

Moscow: 1

Barcelona: 9
Santander: 4

Zurich: 9

East Kilbride: 9
Edinburgh: 9
Leicester: 1
London: 2


Tucson: 2

La Jolla: 6, 8
Pasadena: 2

Boulder: 2

New Haven: 5

District of Columbia
Washington: 8

Honolulu: 2

Chicago: 7
Evanston: 11

Greenbelt: 2

Boston: 4, 5

New York
New York: 11

North Carolina
Durham: 3

Charlottesville: 2


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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Keywords associated to this article: Planetary science, Genetics, Developmental biology, Cancer, Ageing
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