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Article Released Sun-29th-November-2009 19:38 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 A method to purify heart muscle cells

Summaries of newsworthy papers:Fuelling the future; A new way to kill cancer cells; Deep-ocean carbon sequestration; Variant associated with alcoholic liver disease; Learning long-term connections; Parkinson’s gene mutated in cancer; Asymmetric lake distribution on Titan; Sequencing small ChIPs; Glutamate receptor up close


For papers that will be published online on 29 November 2009

This press release is copyrighted to the Nature journals mentioned below.

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Geoscience: Fuelling the future

Methods: A method to purify heart muscle cells

Materials: A new way to kill cancer cells

Geoscience: Deep-ocean carbon sequestration

Genetics: Variant associated with alcoholic liver disease

Nature: Learning long-term connections

Genetics: Parkinson’s gene mutated in cancer

Geoscience: Asymmetric lake distribution on Titan

Methods: Sequencing small ChIPs

Nature: Glutamate receptor up close

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

· Geographical listing of authors

PDFs of all the papers mentioned on this release can be found in the relevant journal’s section of Press contacts for the Nature journals are listed at the end of this release.

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[1] Geoscience: Fuelling the future
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo702

The conversion of coal into liquid fuel could prove to be one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly ways to power jets, trucks and trains, according to a Commentary published online this week in Nature Geoscience.

Reducing carbon emissions to a level that will prevent the worst consequences of climate change will not be easy. Daniel Schrag suggests that an old technology used for converting coal into liquid fuel — known as the Fischer-Tropsch process — could be made to produce diesel and jet fuel with a low carbon footprint. The carbon dioxide emitted during this process is removed, because it is toxic to the catalysts that convert coal into fuel. If this waste carbon dioxide is stored in geological repositories, carbon emissions arising from the production and use of coal-derived fuels will be lower than those from petroleum.

The author suggests that the substitution of some of the coal with biomass could reduce carbon dioxide emissions further.

Author contact:
Daniel Schrag (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 495 7676; E-mail:

[2] Methods: A method to purify heart muscle cells
DOI 10.1038/nmeth.1403

A simple and non-genetic method for isolating highly pure heart muscle cells derived from stem cells is reported in this week’s Nature Methods. The method will facilitate many studies that depend on pure populations of heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes.

Pluripotent stem cells can differentiate into several different cell types – such as cardiomyocytes or neurons – but the process is rarely one-hundred percent efficient. Therefore there is need for a methodology to purify the differentiated cells.

Keichi Fukuda and colleagues show that cardiomyocytes derived from mouse, marmoset and human embryonic stem cells, and also from mouse and human induced pluripotent stem cells, can be isolated to high purity. The scientists accomplished this by labeling the differentiated cells with a fluorescent dye that stains mitochondria and then collecting the cells that contained high levels of the dye. In contrast to existing methods, in which cardiomyocytes are isolated based on their expression of fluorescent markers, Fukuda and colleagues’ method does not require genetic modification. The scientists note that this method of staining and sorting is successful in part because the cardiomyocytes have a high mitochondrial content.

Highly pure populations of cardiomyocytes can be used for a variety of basic studies on cardiac biology both in Petri dishes and in animals as well as for more applied studies such as drug screening.

Author contact:
Keiichi Fukuda (Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan)
Tel: +81 3 5363 3874; E-mail

[3] Materials: A new way to kill cancer cells
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2591

A method to kill cancer cells using magnetic nanodiscs is reported online in Nature Materials this week. The method uses magnetic fields only one tenth the strength of those of used in previous approaches, and at much lower frequencies, and so therefore could avoid the negative side effects associated with higher-strength fields.

Elena Rozhkova and colleagues made tiny, ultrathin discs of permalloy – a magnetic alloy composed of iron and nickel – in which the magnetization of all the atoms are arranged in concentric circles, creating a ‘magnetic vortex’. When an alternating magnetic field is applied, the discs oscillate. In laboratory tests, the authors show that the oscillations disrupt the membranes of cancer cells and initiate programmed cell death.

This approach overcomes some of the problems that have prevented magnetic-nanoparticle therapies from being used clinically, such as high fields and accumulation of particles with permanent magnetization into clumps in the body.

Author contact:
Elena Rozhkova (Argonne National Laboratory, IL, USA)
Tel: +1 630 252 2863; E-mail:

Jon Dobson (Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK) News & Views author
Tel: +1 352 392 0075; E-mail:
Please note that this author is currently travelling in the US

[4] Geoscience: Deep-ocean carbon sequestration
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo701

A method for sequestering carbon that involves injecting carbon dioxide into the deep ocean has been dismissed too early, says a Commentary online this week in Nature Geoscience. The environmental damage caused by all the options for removing carbon from the atmosphere — including deep-ocean injection — should be carefully weighed up against each other and against the impacts of continuing increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

Ralph Keeling argues that tough choices need to be made in combating climate change. He suggests that some negative effects on the environment from human emissions of carbon dioxide are inevitable — whether or not we decide to sequester carbon dioxide, and no matter which sequestration option we choose. The problem of fighting climate change then becomes one of finding the right balance between the global benefit of reducing anthropogenic greenhouse-gas forcing and the local damage from any of the options for carbon sequestration.

Author contact:
Ralph Keeling (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 534 7582; Email:

[5] Genetics: Variant associated with alcoholic liver disease
DOI: 10.1038/ng.488

A genetic variant known to be associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is also associated with alcoholic liver disease, according to a study published online in this week’s Nature Genetics.

Liver cirrhosis – scarring of liver – causes approximately 27,000 deaths each year in the United States. Approximately half of these deaths are alcohol related, although only 10-15% of alcoholics develop cirrhosis. Previously, a genetic variant in the gene PNPLA3 was shown to be associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a fatty inflammation of the liver that is not related to alcohol use.

David Hinds and colleagues show that variation in PNPLA3 is also associated with clinically evident liver disease in individuals with mixed European and Native American ancestry from Mexico City that have a history of substantial alcohol abuse. This genetic variant may help identify individuals of a similar genetic background who have an increased risk of liver disease.

Author contact:
David Hinds (Perlegen, Mountain View, CA)
Tel: +1 650 625 4529; E-mail:

[6] & [7] Nature: Learning long-term connections
DOI: 10.1038/nature08389
DOI: 10.1038/nature08577

The way in which circuits in the brain change in response to learning a new skill or gaining new sensory information is discussed in two papers in Nature this week.

Yi Zuo and colleagues found that training mice to perform a reaching task induced a rapid induction of new dendritic spines in the brain when compared to mice that had no specific training. This happened within hours of the mice carrying out the task. Although over time the overall spine numbers did not change, new spines were preferentially maintained long after training had stopped. The team conclude that rapid long-lasting synaptic reorganisation is the key to durable motor memory.

Wen-Biao Gan and colleagues looked at how neural circuits keep integrating new information while maintaining previously stored memories throughout life. They note that learning and daily sensory experiences leave small but permanent marks on connections within the brain of mice, and that lifelong memories are stored in stably connected synaptic networks.

The authors suggest that this concept may also apply to more complex species such as monkeys and humans.

Yi Zuo (University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA) Author paper [6]
Tel: +1 831 459 3812; E-mail:

Wen-Biao Gan (New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA) Author paper [7]
Tel: +1 212 263 2586; E-mail:

[8] Genetics: Parkinson’s gene mutated in cancer
DOI: 10.1038/ng.491

PARK2, a gene commonly mutated in early-onset Parkinson’s disease, is also mutated in glioblastoma, colon cancer and lung cancer, according to a new study published online in this week’s Nature Genetics. This suggests that while germline mutations in PARK2 cause neuronal defects that lead to Parkinson’s disease, somatic mutations in PARK2 contribute to cancer.

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than four million people worldwide. Most cases of Parkinson’s disease occur in people with no familial history of the disorder. However, 15% of cases occur in patients with familial history of the disease, many of whom carry mutations in known genes, including PARK2. Germline mutations in PARK2 lead to early-onset loss of specific neurons in the brain, but PARK2 is also known to be expressed in other tissues, including the lung, colon and testes.

Timothy Chan and colleagues report that they found deletions within both alleles of PARK2 in about 2% of glioblastoma – an aggressive type of brain tumor – and 6% of colon cancer samples. The scientists also identified mutations in the PARK2 gene in glioblastoma and lung cancer. Functional experiments show that these cancer-specific PARK2 mutations affect the ability of PARK2 protein to suppress cell growth.

Author contact:
Timothy Chan (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 646 888 2765; E-mail:

[9] Geoscience: Asymmetric lake distribution on Titan
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo698

The hydrocarbon lakes that have recently been discovered on Saturn’s moon Titan are not distributed equally across the hemispheres, reports a study online this week in Nature Geoscience. The difference in lake coverage between the hemispheres could be the result of seasonal variations in Saturn’s orbit around the Sun.

Oded Aharonson and colleagues quantified the distribution of the lakes and basins that had been identified by the Cassini orbiter on Titan’s surface. They found that in the northern hemisphere, the fraction of the surface covered with lakes and basins is much higher than in the southern hemisphere.

The authors propose that Titan is governed by a vigorous hydrological cycle that varies on a timescale of tens of thousands of years and leads to modification of the planet’s surface — similar to the Earth’s glacial cycles.

Author contact:
Oded Aharonson (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 626 395 5704; E-mail:

[10] Methods: Sequencing small ChIPs
DOI 10.1038/nmeth.1404

A technique to sequence small quantities of DNA is published online this week in Nature Methods. This method, which uses 100-fold less starting material than standard methods, will allow insights into chromatin structure and gene regulation in small cell populations, such as small tumor biopsies.

Chromatin immunoprecipitation, known as ChIP, is based on the isolation of chromatin proteins associated with DNA. The subsequent analysis of this DNA yields information about the interaction between the DNA and the proteins that turn gene expression on or off. Standard ChIP procedures involve a multistep protocol that can lead to sampling bias and require millions of cells as starting material. Bradley Bernstein and colleagues now present an alternative analysis approach based on single-molecule sequencing of chromatin-immunoprecipitated DNA on the Heliscope sequencer.

The scientists show that analysis of as little as 50 picograms of input DNA, the equivalent of about 25,000 cells, yields reproducible and robust results. Making do with fewer cells will enable researchers to analyze chromatin structure, and thus DNA regulation, from cell populations that have hitherto been inaccessible to this analysis.

Author contact:
Bradley Bernstein (Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 726 6906; E-mail:

[11] Nature: Glutamate receptor up close
DOI: 10.1038/nature08624

The structure of an abundant transmembrane protein receptor that is crucial for interneural communication in the central nervous system is unveiled in this week's Nature.

The glutamate receptor GluA2 is embedded in the plasma membrane of neurons. When the neurotransmitter glutamate binds to it, it triggers the opening of tiny membrane-spanning pores, called ion channels, which enable charged ions to flow through the pore, changing the transmembrane potential of the cell.

Eric Gouaux and colleagues solved the X-ray crystal structure of GluA2. Their findings reveal that its four main components, or subunits, are arranged into a ‘Y’ shape. The structure also reveals the spatial arrangement of the glutamate-binding domains and the transmembrane domain, which forms the membrane-spanning ion channel. The overall architecture of the receptor was not expected: the extracellular domains exhibit a two-fold symmetry, but the ion channel part of the protein has four-fold symmetry. This means that seemingly identical ‘subunit pairs’ are actually distinct. The structure also reveals that the ion channel component of the GluA2 receptor is structurally very similar to a bacterial potassium channel.

Ion-channel-containing glutamate receptors, such as GluA2, are implicated in nearly all aspects of nervous system development and function, and have been linked to specific neurodegenerative conditions and psychiatric disorders. It is hoped that the structure of this receptor will enable researchers to understand better the mechanisms of ion channel activation, desensitization and inhibition by non-competitive antagonists and pore blockers.

Author contact:
Eric Gouaux (Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA)
Tel: +1 503 494 5535; E-mail:

Items from other Nature journals to be published online at the same time and with the same embargo:

Nature (

[12] Structure of the outer membrane complex of a type IV secretion system
DOI: 10.1038/nature08588


[13] Aminoglycoside activity observed on single pre-translocation ribosome complexes
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.274

[14] In vivo selection of tumor-targeting RNA motifs
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.277


[15] Vapour-phase gold-surface-mediated coupling of aldehydes with methanol
DOI: 10.1038/nchem.467

[16] Converting homogeneous to heterogeneous in electrophilic catalysis using monodisperse metal nanoparticles
DOI: 10.1038/nchem.468


[17] The role of exhumation in metamorphic dehydration and fluid production
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo699


[18] Role of STAT5 in controlling cell survival and immunoglobulin gene recombination during pro-B cell development
DOI: 10.1038/ni.1827

[19] Negative regulation of TLR4 via targeting of the proinflammatory tumor suppressor PDCD4 by the microRNA miR-21
DO: 10.1038/ni.1828


[20] Highly efficient photocathodes for dye-sensitized tandem solar cells
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2588

[21] Exceptional high-temperature stability through distillation-like self-stabilization in bimetallic nanoparticles
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2584

[22] A 3.6V lithium-based fluorosulphate insertion positive electrode for lithium-ion batteries
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2590


[23] Prostaglandin F2a receptor signaling facilitates bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis independently of transforming growth factor-beta
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2066

[24] Reducing endoplasmic reticulum stress through a macrophage lipid chaperone alleviates atherosclerosis
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2067


[25] Ferromagnetic domain nucleation and growth in colossal magnetoresistive manganite
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2009.342

[26] Dispersed nanoelectrode devices
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2009.349

[27] Nanotube electronics for radiofrequency applications
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2009.355


[28] Sonic hedgehog modulates the response of spinal cord commissural axons to Semaphorin signals during midline crossing
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2457

[29] Intervening Inhibition Underlies Simple-like Receptive Field Structure in Visual Cortex
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2443


[30] Cavity-enhanced dual-comb spectroscopy
DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2009.217

Nature PHYSICS (

[31] Observation of Van Hove singularities in twisted graphene layers
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1463

[32] Confinement of fractional quantum number particles in a condensed-matter system
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1462

[33] Probing superfluids in optical lattices by momentum-resolved Bragg spectroscopy
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1476


[34] Distinct passenger strand and mRNA cleavage activities of human Argonaute proteins
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1712

[35] Mechanism of potassium-channel selectivity revealed by Na+ and Li+ binding sites within the KcsA pore
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1703


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. 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.

Clayton: 20
Melbourne: 17, 18
Woollongong: 20

Vienna: 18

Amiens: 22
Grenoble: 12
Orsay: 12, 30
Paris: 12

Berlin: 32
Dresden: 32
Garching: 30
Hamburg: 33
Martinsried: 30
Munich: 30
Ulm: 20

Dublin: 19

Chiba: 30
Ibaraki: 25
Kanagawa: 2
Kyoto: 23
Nara: 23
Okinawa: 25
Osaka: 2
Saitama: 25
Sakai: 25
Sendai: 25
Tokyo: 2, 23

Mexico City: 5

Wellington: 17

Porto: 31

Hwasung City: 25

Madrid: 18

Zurich: 26

Didcot: 32
London: 12, 18, 32
St Andrews: 32


Tucson: 9

Berkeley: 16
Davis: 35
Irvine: 27
La Jolla: 4, 28
Los Angeles: 8, 29
Mountain View: 5
Pasadena: 9
Santa Barbara: 22
Santa Cruz: 6
West Sacramento: 24

Argonne: 3
Chicago: 3

Laurel: 9

Boston: 10, 24, 31, 34
Cambridge: 1, 10, 15, 31, 34

New Jersey
Piscataway: 31

New York
New York: 7, 8, 9, 13, 17, 35
Tarrytown: 11
Upton: 32

North Carolina
Chapel Hill: 24
Durham: 14
Greensboro: 14

Portland: 11

Philadelphia: 19
Pittsburgh: 21

Nashville: 24, 35

Austin: 6

Salt Lake City: 17


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Nature Cell Biology (London)
Bernd Pulverer
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Nature Chemical Biology (Boston)
Andrea Garvey
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Nature Chemistry (London)
Stuart Cantrill
Tel: +44 20 7014 4018; E-mail:

Nature Genetics (New York)
Myles Axton
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Nature Geoscience (London)
Heike Langenberg
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Nature Immunology (New York)
Laurie Dempsey
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Nature Materials (London)
Vincent Dusastre
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Nature Medicine (New York)
Juan Carlos Lopez
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Nature Methods (New York)
Hugh Ash
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Nature Nanotechnology (London)
Peter Rodgers
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Nature Neuroscience (New York)
Kalyani Narasimhan
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Nature Photonics (Tokyo)
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Nature Physics (London)
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Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (New York)
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