Transgenic cell transplants offer hope against heart-attack after attacks

Summaries of newsworthy papers including: Tracking volcanic activity on the Moon, Space: How close is too close? Joined-up thinking on bird flu, Cancer: A double agent exposed, Cinderella science, A quantum-dot light switch, Ancient magma ocean under Earth's mantle?, Snowball versus slushball, Are you a man or a mouse?


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.450 NO.7171 DATED 06 DECEMBER 2007

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Heart disease: Transgenic cell transplants offer hope against heart-attack after attacks
Planetary science: Tracking volcanic activity on the Moon
Space: How close is too close?
Commentary: Joined-up thinking on bird flu
Cancer: A double agent exposed
Commentary: Cinderella science
Electrodynamics: A quantum-dot light switch
Geochemistry: Ancient magma ocean under Earth's mantle?
Palaeoclimate: Snowball versus slushball
And finally… Are you a man or a mouse?

· 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.

Warning: This document, and the Nature papers to which it refers, may contain information that is price sensitive (as legally defined, for example, in the UK Criminal Justice Act 1993 Part V) with respect to publicly quoted companies. Anyone dealing in securities using information contained in this document or in advanced copies of Nature’s content may be guilty of insider trading under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The Nature journals press site is at

· PDFs for the Articles, Letters, Progress articles, Review articles, Insights and Brief Communications in this issue will be available on the Nature journals press site from 1400 London time / 0900 US Eastern time on the Friday before publication.

· PDFs of News & Views, News Features, Correspondence and Commentaries will be available from 1400 London time / 0900 US Eastern time on the Monday before publication

PICTURES: While we are happy for images from Nature to be reproduced for the purposes of contemporaneous news reporting, you must also seek permission from the copyright holder (if named) or author of the research paper in question (if not).

HYPE: We take great care not to hype the papers mentioned on our press releases, but are sometimes accused of doing so. If you ever consider that a story has been hyped, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected], citing the specific example.


[1] Heart disease: Transgenic cell transplants offer hope against heart-attack after attacks (pp 819-824)

Transplants of genetically engineered cells could help to reduce the risk of fatal arrhythmia in the wake of a heart attack, according to new mouse studies reported in this week’s Nature. The discovery could offer a way to prevent ventricular tachycardia, a type of heart arrhythmia that is currently the main cause of sudden death in patients who have previously had a heart attack.

Previously, doctors have attempted to prevent ventricular tachycardia by implanting either bone marrow cells or other cells called skeletal myoblasts into heart tissue to help it recover from the damage sustained in a heart attack. But this approach has not proven successful because the cells never develop into true heart cells.

Bernd K. Fleischmann and colleagues report that, in mice, transplantation of cells called embryonic cardiomyocytes successfully reduces the danger of ventricular tachycardia. They also deduced that the key factor in these cells is a protein called connexin 43. When they genetically engineered skeletal myoblasts, which are more readily available, to express this same protein, they discovered that these cells were now equally effective in restoring heart function, thereby avoiding the need to use cells from embryos.

Bernd K. Fleischmann (University of Bonn, Germany)
Tel: +49 228 688 5200; E-mail: [email protected]

Michael Kotlikoff (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA) Co-author
Tel: +1 607 253 3771; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Planetary science: Tracking volcanic activity on the Moon (pp849-852)

Even though we have visited the Moon, we don't understand a great deal about its origin and how it evolved. Clues have come from its past volcanic activity, and a paper in this week's Nature indicates that this began about 4.35 billion years ago - soon after the Moon's formation.

Kentaro Terada, Mahesh Anand and colleagues came to this conclusion after dating minerals in a lunar meteorite dubbed Kalahari 009 - some were associated with fragments of crystallized magma from the earliest eruptions on the Moon's vast plains. Other lunar rock samples collected during Apollo missions are the result of more recent eruptions.

The authors consider it likely that this volcanism began while the Moon's crust was forming. They say that Kalahari 009 is the first 'cryptomare' sample from the Moon - conveyer of a hidden signature of its earliest history.

Kentaro Terada (Hiroshima University, Japan)
Tel: +81 824 24 7478; E-mail: [email protected]

Mahesh Anand (The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK) Co-author
Tel: +44 1908 858 551; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Space: How close is too close? (pp 845-848)

There has been a question mark hanging over the stability of extrasolar giant planets - those that orbit stars other than the Sun -ever since they were first discovered in the mid-1990s. A paper in this week’s Nature investigates the stability limit of the atmosphere of escaping atomic hydrogen surrounding a Jupiter-like exoplanet known unremarkably as HD209458b.

Tommi T. Koskinen and colleagues model the upper atmospheres of such planets, which are intensely heated by their solar-type host star. For a Jupiter-type planet orbiting a star like the sun, they find the upper atmosphere is either thin and stable or expands rapidly as hydrogen escapes. The upper atmosphere breaks down sharply at an orbiting distance of about 0.15 astronomical units, an astronomical unit being the distance of the Earth from the Sun.

The researchers say that their model improves on earlier ones because it takes into account a wider range of factors, including strong winds in the upper atmosphere and the cooling effect of H3+. As the giant planet moves closer in towards its star, it becomes too hot for H3+ to form, leading to the atmosphere’s stability breakdown as the cooling function is lost.

Tommi T. Koskinen (University College London, UK)
Tel: +44 20 7679 3372; E-mail: [email protected]

Commentary: Joined-up thinking on bird flu (pp 791-792)

Global surveillance is critical for identifying and tracking potential pandemic influenza viruses such as H5N1. But the current approach is too piecemeal and risks missing important virus sources or subtypes, argues Walter Boyce in a Commentary in this week’s Nature.

To improve our chances of halting influenza outbreaks before they spread, says Boyce, we need to share flu samples more rapidly, increase testing of birds in endemic areas, and track more than one virus. Live infected birds, not dead birds, pose the greatest threat, yet surveillance of healthy birds has largely focused on the wrong regions – in Europe and North America where infections are rare. More resources need to switch to endemic regions, says Boyce, and to stop discarding non-H5N1 viruses that may also pose pandemic risks.

Each virus outbreak, including the UK outbreak at Diss last month, is followed by speculation about the virus source and transmission. Scientists should be able to say whether a virus came from wild birds or poultry, and respond accordingly. Slow sharing of virus samples, either because of regulatory hurdles or concerns over publication priorities, also hampers response efforts. Data release within 45 days should be adopted as a community standard, Boyce recommends.

Walter Boyce (Wildlife Health Center, University of California, Davis, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 530 752 1401; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Cancer: A double agent exposed (pp 825-831)

A tumour needs its own network of blood vessels to fuel its growth and so it commandeers factors from its host to help - for example, ones ordinarily active in wound healing. A paper published in this week’s Nature shows how one such molecule, known as Bv8, is stimulated by the tumour to mobilize white blood cells from the bone marrow that work alongside Bv8 to help it create its vital blood supply.

Napoleone Ferrara and colleagues have discovered that tumours implanted into immunodeficient mice secrete granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) - a factor normally involved in formation of blood cells - which steps up production of Bv8 in the bone marrow. In turn, Bv8 directs white blood cells of the ‘neutrophil’ lineage to home in on the tumour.

The team worked out the details of the process with the help of an antibody against Bv8, which binds to the molecule and deactivates it. The same antibody might therefore be useful for thwarting tumour growth, particularly if combined with cell-killing chemotherapy.

Napoleone Ferrara (Genentech Inc, South San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 225 2968; E-mail: [email protected]

Commentary: Cinderella science (pp 789-790)

On-the-ground monitoring is unglamorous work, seldom rewarded by funding agencies or the science community. But we neglect it at our peril warns Euan Nisbet in a Commentary in this week’s Nature.

As the climate community celebrates the 50th anniversary of the measurements that documented the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the famous 'Keeling curve'- long-term measuring is still not valued as 'discovery' science. Nisbet points to major gaps in our current monitoring of greenhouse gases, in the tropics and South Atlantic, in isotope and nitrous-oxide monitoring.

Modern climate science needs both shiny satellites and ground-based networks argues Nisbet, but it is often easier to get funding for one-off projects than it is to find continuous support for crucial long-term datasets. We need to build on international networks like the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Atmosphere Watch, says Nisbet, if we are to understand our planet and verify the levels of gas emissions controlled by current and future climate treaties.

Euan Nisbet (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Tel: +44 1784 443 809; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] & [6] Electrodynamics: A quantum-dot light switch (pp 862-865; 857-861)

Two papers in this week’s Nature raise the possibility of developing quantum devices based on the manipulation of light signals by semiconductor quantum dots.

Light and matter interact in a particular way inside a microscopic optical resonant cavity because of quantum mechanical effects. What Painter and Srinivasan, and Vuckovic and co-workers independently show is that a single quantum dot placed in such a cavity will block incoming light particles (photons) if it is strongly coupled to the cavity’s optical field.

The potential simplicity and microchip scalability of these two quantum-dot ‘light switch’ systems could be good news for quantum information processing and ultra-secure long-distance communication applications.

Oskar Painter (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA) Author paper [5]
Tel: +1 626 395 8008; E-mail: [email protected]

Jelena Vuckovic (Stanford University, CA, USA) Author paper [6]
Tel: +1 650 723 0206; E-mail: [email protected]

Dirk Englund (Stanford University, CA, USA) Co-author paper [6]
Tel: +1 650 450 3829; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Geochemistry: Ancient magma ocean under Earth's mantle? (pp 866-869)

Melting and crystallization processes have controlled the composition of the Earth's interior over geological time. A paper in this week's Nature considers what would have become of an early ocean of dense magma that may once have swirled at the bottom of the Earth's mantle.

Stéphane Labrosse and colleagues suggest that partially molten patches now observed at the base of the Earth's mantle could be the remnants of such a deep magma ocean. These patches would be survivors of a gradual fractional crystallization process, in which minerals slowly settled out of the melt.

The authors say that the magma ocean could have been a hidden geochemical reservoir hosting a variety of incompatible geochemical species. These might explain some anomalous isotopic ratios observed in the mantle and the absence of particular elements from Earth's geochemical budget — notably some heat-producing elements. Heat production in the melt layer would have contributed to heat flow into the solid mantle as well keeping the core from cooling.

Stéphane Labrosse (Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, France)
Tel: +33 4 72 72 85 15; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] Palaeoclimate: Snowball versus slushball (pp 813-818; N&V)

The reaction of the carbon cycle during rapidly cooling conditions could have prevented the Earth from completely freezing over during a critical period of its history. An increased rate of remineralization of a massive pool of dissolved organic carbon in the ocean kept atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the past just high enough to prevent a ‘snowball Earth’; allowing photosynthesis to continue.

The snowball Earth hypothesis proposes that the Earth was fully covered with ice during a series of glaciations around 700 million years ago. Evidence from the rock record and from oxygen isotopes suggests that glaciers could have reached the Equator, with profound effects on photosynthesis and the subsequent evolution of life itself. Other theories suggest that there may have been open water in equatorial regions, but the issue remains controversial.

In this week’s Nature, W. Richard Peltier and colleagues present a coupled model of the carbon cycle and climate system during the Neoproterozoic, which shows that the carbon cycle could have acted as a buffer to prevent complete snowball conditions. They find that more oxygen is taken up by a cooling ocean, which converts organic into inorganic carbon more efficiently. This creates a negative feedback loop that stabilizes low carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and prevents further cooling.

Many uncertainties remain and the model needs to be developed and tested further. The authors suggest that it may have been the carbon cycle and not the physical climate system that was operating in an extreme mode just before the Cambrian explosion of life.

W. Richard Peltier (University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Tel: +1 416 978 2938; E-mail: [email protected]

Alan J. Kaufman (University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA) N&V Author
Tel: +1 301 405 0395; E-mail: [email protected]

[9] And finally… Are you a man or a mouse? (pp 899-902)

A protein responsible for promoting fights between rival males has been found in mice. Research published in this week’s Nature identifies the pheromones involved in aggressive confrontations, and shows how these compounds can affect behaviour.

Pheromones - compounds released by conspecifics - regulate social behaviors such as mating and aggression in mice. Lisa Stowers and colleagues imaged the responses of sensory neurons in the vomeronasal organ to various components of male urine and analysed behaviour. Their results show that two molecules are sufficient to promote male on male aggression. The authors then characterized the cells and circuits that these molecules act on.

The team believe that this research is crucial in understanding the aggression-promoting circuits that underlie the regulation of behaviour.

Lisa Stowers (The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 784 7285; E-mail: [email protected]


[10] The molecular architecture of cadherins in native epidermal desmosomes (pp 832-837)
[11] Low-temperature shear modulus changes in solid 4He and connection to supersolidity (pp 853-856; N&V)


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.

Alberta: 11
Toronto: 8
Vancouver: 7

Lyon: 7
Paris: 7
Villeurbanne: 7

Bonn: 1
Heidelberg: 10
Munster: 2

Higashi-Hiroshima: 2
Tokyo: 2

London: 2, 3
Milton Keynes: 2

La Jolla: 9
Pasadena: 6
San Francisco: 4
Santa Barbara: 5
Stanford: 5
Gaithersburg: 6
Cambridge: 9
New York
Ithaca: 1
Pittsburgh: 1
Rhode Island
Providence: 1


For North America and Canada
Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail: [email protected]

For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail: [email protected]

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Rachel Twinn, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail [email protected]

About NPG

Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd, dedicated to serving the academic, professional scientific and medical communities. NPG's flagship title, Nature, was first published in 1869. Other publications include Nature research journals, Nature Reviews, Nature Clinical Practice and a range of prestigious academic journals including society-owned publications. NPG also provides news content through [email protected]. Scientific career information and free job postings are offered on Naturejobs.

NPG is a global company with headquarters in London and offices in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, Tokyo, Paris, Munich, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Delhi, Mexico City and Basingstoke. For more information, please go to

Published: 05 Dec 2007

Contact details:

The Macmillan Building, 4 Crinan Street
N1 9XW
United Kingdom

+44 20 7833 4000
News topics: 
Content type: