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Article Released Thu-27th-August-2009 14:36 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Astronomy: The planet that shouldn’t exist

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Out of REACH, A natural repellent, Fungi don 'invisibility cloak', Photosynthesis-related genes present in marine virus genomes, Keep it in context and how birds become ‘blokes’


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.460 NO.7259 DATED 27 AUGUST 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Astronomy: The planet that shouldn’t exist

Opinion: Out of REACH

Molecular biology: A natural repellent

Mycology: Fungi don 'invisibility cloak'

Microbiology: Photosynthesis-related genes present in marine virus genomes

Cell biology: Keep it in context

And finally… How birds become ‘blokes’

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Astronomy: The planet that shouldn’t exist (pp 1098-1100; N&V)

A planet has been discovered with ten times the mass of Jupiter, but which orbits its star in less than one Earth-day. The discovery, reported in this week’s Nature by Coel Hellier and colleagues, poses a challenge to our understanding of tidal interactions in planetary systems.

The planet, called WASP-18b, belongs to a now-common class of extrasolar planets known as ‘hot Jupiters’ — massive planets that are thought to have formed far from their host stars, and migrated inwards over time. WASP-18b is so massive, and so close to its star — only about three stellar radii away — that tidal interactions between star and planet should have caused the planet to spiral inwards to its destruction in less than a million years. Yet, as Hellier and colleagues show, the WASP-18 parent star is about a billion years old — making the likelihood of observing WASP-18b about one in a thousand.

How can this unlikely discovery be explained? One possibility is that the tidal dissipation in the WASP-18 system is a thousandtimes less than in our Solar System; this and other possible explanations are discussed by Douglas Hamilton in an accompanying News and Views article. But if the planet’s remaining life is as short as predicted, the orbital decay should be measurable within a decade. So watch this space...

Coel Hellier (Keele University, UK)
Tel: +44 1782 734243; E-mail:

Douglas D P Hamilton (University of Maryland, Maryland, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 301 405 1548; E-mail:

Opinion: Out of REACH (pp 1080-1081)

An urgent review of European legislation supporting the biggest ever investment into consumer safety is called for in an Opinion article in Nature this week. REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) aims to determine the toxicity of the tens of thousands of existing chemicals that predate the era of mandatory testing of new products. But the number of chemicals that have been pre-registered for REACH by industry vastly exceeds expectations.

REACH came into force two years ago. A new analysis from toxicologists Thomas Hartung and Costanza Rovida shows that compliance with the legislation may use 20 times more animals and cost 6 times as much as previously estimated. The authors argue that a moratorium on the most costly tests — in terms of both money and animals lives — would be wise, until alternatives are approved.

Hartung and Rovida support the objectives of REACH but they fear that regulatory toxicology has neither the high-throughput methods nor the alternatives to animal testing to cope. They plan to release their full analysis at the meeting of the World Congress on Alternatives & Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Rome at the end of the month.

In their Opinion article, the pair recommend an urgent review of many of the projected tests. Their analysis shows that reproductivity toxicology tests would consume by far the most resources, but suggested refinements to these tests are opposed by some European countries. By using more modern methodology, it should be possible to achieve the improved safety at a much lower cost.

Thomas Hartung (Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA)
Tel: +1 443 983 7311; E-mail:

[2] Molecular biology: A natural repellent (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08295

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 26 August 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 27 August, but at a later date. ***

The discovery of a novel, natural class of compound that helps fruitflies overcome their natural aversion to CO2 could boost the search for environmentally safe mosquito repellents, a Nature paper suggests.

The behaviour-modifying odorants, found in CO2-rich ripening fruits, directly block CO2-sensitive neurons in the fruitfly antenna, Anandasankar Ray and Stephanie Turner report. The results are surprising because smell-related, rather than CO2-related, neuronal pathways were thought more likely to be involved.

Certain molecules also blocked the action of CO2-responsive neurons from Culex mosquitoes, the insect vector for West Nile virus and various tropical parasites. Given that these insects are drawn to the CO2 emitted in human breath, these first reported inhibitors of mosquito CO2-sensitive neurons could aid the search for repellent drugs that work by blocking this pathway.

Anandasankar Ray (University of California, Riverside, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 951 827 5998; E-mail:

[3] Mycology: Fungi don 'invisibility cloak' (pp 1117-1121)

Fungal spores are coated with a protein that makes them invisible to the human immune system, a Nature paper reveals.

Paul Latgé and colleagues used mouse and tissue culture studies to show that the water-repelling protein coat of dormant Aspergillus fumigatus spores masks recognition by the host immune system. Removing the coat results in spores that trigger an inflammatory immune response.

The study explains why the allergen-containing airborne fungal spores we inhale daily in massive amounts do not trigger an undue, exacerbated immune response.

Jean-Paul Latgé (Institut Pasteur, Paris, France)
Tel: +33 1 406 13518; E-mail:

[4] Microbiology: Photosynthesis-related genes present in marine virus genomes (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08284

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 26 August 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 27 August, but at a later date. ***

A novel class of photosynthesis-related genes has been discovered in marine viruses called cyanophages. The discovery is reported in this week’s Nature.

The genes, known as photosystem I genes, are more commonly found in the cyanobacteria that cyanophages infect. Their discovery in cyanophages suggests that the genes may provide a fitness advantage to the virus by boosting host performance, Oded Béjà and colleagues suggest.

A related class of photosynthesis-associated genes, photosystem II, was already known to be present in cyanophage genomes, where they are thought to serve a similar purpose.

Oded Béjà (Technion-Israel Institue, Haifa, Israel)
Tel: +972 4 82 93 96 1; Email:

[5] Cell biology: Keep it in context (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08282

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 26 August 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 27 August, but at a later date. ***

Fundamental cellular features, such as virus infectivity, are influenced by a cell’s position relative to the rest of its population, a cell culture study in this week’s Nature suggests. The finding helps to explain the variability observed between genetically identical cells cultured in the same dish, and has implications for drug screens and other studies of cellular activity.

Lucas Pelkmans and colleagues analysed large populations of cultured adherent human cells and found links between specific cellular states — for example, membrane lipid composition or infectivity by some but not other viruses — and whether a cell is localized at the centre or periphery of an island of adhering cells.

The study highlights a fundamental flaw in the current methods used to study differences in these activities between cell populations, which do not take this cell-to-cell variability into account. The team also present a model that can predict the level of virus infection and membrane lipid content based on the population context of that cell.

Lucas L Pelkmans (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH, Zürich, Switzerland)
Tel: +41 44 633 36 91; E-mail:

[6] And finally… How birds become ‘blokes’ (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature08298

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 26 August 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 27 August, but at a later date. ***

The gene that controls sex determination in chickens is revealed online this week in Nature.

Male birds carry two Z chromosomes, whereas females carry one Z and one W chromosome. Craig Smith and colleagues now provide evidence that that the Z-linked gene DMRT1 is required for male sex determination in the chicken. Genetically male chick embryos — those that have two Z chromosomes — with reduced levels of the DMRT1 protein develop feminised gonads.

The mammalian sex-determining gene SRY is well known, but the mechanism underpinning sex determination in birds has been the subject of much debate. This study shows that DMRT1 is required for testis formation and lends support to the theory that a double dose of a Z-linked gene is needed to make bird embryos male.

Craig Smith (Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
Tel: +61 3 83416426; E-mail:


[7] 2,000-year-long temperature and hydrology reconstructions from the western Pacific warm pool (pp 1113-1116)


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.

Geelong : 6
Melbourne: 6

Liege: 1

Paris: 3
Roscoff : 4

Jena: 3

Haifa: 4
Tel Aviv : 4

Perugia: 3

Geneva: 1
Zurich: 5

Belfast: 1
Coventry: 1
Leicester: 1
Oxford: 1
St. Andrews: 1


Riverside: 2
San Diego: 4
Santa Barbara: 1

Bethesda: 4

Cambridge: 1
Woods Hole: 7

New Jersey
New Brunswick: 7

New York
Albany: 7


For North America and Canada
Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
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For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
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For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Katherine Anderson, Nature London
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