Mitigating natural disasters

Comments on the the Sichuan earthquake and cyclone Nargis. Other papers include Genetic origins of the Grey horse, New cancer drugs with reduced side effects, Predicting lung cancer survival, Heavy rains ahead, Fighting tuberculosis with acid, Rafting down biological cascades, Animal behaviour lighting the way, Nanotechnology: Gold standard


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

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Genetics: Genetic origins of the Grey horse

Geoscience: Mitigating natural disasters

Biotechnology: New cancer drugs with reduced side effects

Medicine: Predicting lung cancer survival

Geoscience: Heavy rains ahead

Medicine: Fighting tuberculosis with acid

Chemical Biology: Rafting down biological cascades

Nature: Animal behaviour lighting the way

And finally… Nanotechnology: Gold standard

· 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] Genetics: Genetic origins of the Grey horse
DOI: 10.1038/ng.185

The genetic mutation underlying the characteristic colour of ‘Grey’ horses has been identified, according to a study published online this week in Nature Genetics.

Grey horses are typically descended from Arabian ancestors, including the famous purebred Lipizzaner stallions that are trained for classical dressage, and have been selected by humans for their striking appearance. Grey horses are born with dark hair but gradually lose pigmentation. As their hair becomes white by the age of 6–8 years, they take on a gray appearance due to their black skin underneath.

Leif Andersson and colleagues show that variants in a region on horse chromosome 25 are present in more than 800 Grey horses from 8 different breeds, but not in non-Grey horses. Through further mapping they identify a duplication of 4,600 base-pairs of DNA that promotes the over-expression of two neighbouring genes, STX17 and NR4A3, in Grey horses.

It is not yet known if the over-expression of only one of the genes, or both, is responsible for the loss of hair pigmentation. The authors also point out that 70–80% of Grey horses older than 15 years have melanomas, which reduces their lifespan. They propose that the STX17/NR4A3 over-expression simultaneously promotes susceptibility to melanoma and loss of hair pigmentation through effects on the proliferation rate of pigment-containing cells in the skin and hair follicles.

Author contact:
Leif Andersson (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Tel: +46 184714904; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] & [3] Geoscience: Mitigating natural disasters
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo265
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo257

Topographic analyses of the mountain ranges near the recent Sichuan earthquake in China point to the area surrounding the Huya fault, just north of the devastated area, as a region of elevated future earthquake risk, according to a Commentary published online in Nature Geoscience this week. A related Commentary on tropical cyclone Nargis in Myanmar suggests that a better regional forecasting system, combined with disaster mitigation plans modelled on those implemented in Bangladesh, could help alleviate future impacts of tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean region.

Eric Kirby and colleagues argue that geomorphic analysis — which quantifies how the landscape responds to tectonic deformation — could offer a relatively cheap and efficient tool for assessing seismic hazard in remote or poorly understood regions. The value of such analysis is borne out by the fact that the devastating 12 May 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China struck in a region that had previously been shown to have high rates of rock uplift.

Peter Webster discusses the need for longer lead times in disaster warning in developing countries, given limits in communication and transport infrastructure. He also points to a need for storm surge forecasts to complement the current regional cyclone forecasts: much of the damage from cyclone Nargis can be attributed to inundation by the storm surge, rather than to the passage of the cyclone itself.

Both studies highlight the importance of preparedness in regions at risk from natural disasters.

Author contacts:
Eric Kirby (Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA) Author paper [2]
Tel: +1 814 865 0732; E-mail: [email protected]

Peter Webster (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA) Author paper [3]
Tel: +1 404 894 1748; Email: [email protected]

[4] Biotechnology: New cancer drugs with reduced side effects
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1480

A new type of antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) with potential for cancer therapy is described online this week in Nature Biotechnology. The therapy promises to be less toxic to healthy cells and could potentially have fewer nasty side-effects.

Tumour-targeted antibodies are highly efficient at recognizing cancer cells whilst ignoring normal cells and this feature has been exploited for targeted drug delivery, by attaching chemotherapy drugs to the antibodies to generate ADCs. Previous methods of making ADCs gave mixed results, with some antibodies having more drug attached than others, making it difficult to optimize dosage. William Mallet and colleagues report a new method of producing ADCs with defined amounts of drug attached. The drug is bound to the antibody in a more reproducible manner than previous ADCs and should have less negative effects on healthy cells.

The team modified specific sites in the antibody structure to facilitate drug attachment, without affecting the overall structure of the antibody or its ability to recognize cancer cells. Studies in mice showed that the new ADCs were more efficient than conventional ADCs – achieving the same level of tumour killing with approximately half the drug dose. The new ADCs were also better tolerated by rats and monkeys, suggesting they could have fewer side-effects in humans.

Author contacts:
William Mallet (Genentech Inc., San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 225 4533; E-mail: [email protected]

Jagath Reddy Junutula (Genentech Inc., San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 650 225 4533; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Medicine: Predicting lung cancer survival
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1790

Scientists have compiled the largest ever study to validate prognostic models of lung cancer patient survival. In addition to providing the largest available set of microarray data with extensive pathological and clinical annotation for lung tumours, this study is a potential milestone for the clinical application of predictive models of patient survival.

Gene expression signatures can predict survival of patients with lung cancer but it is crucial to establish their performance across different subject populations and laboratories before they are used in the clinic.

Online in Nature Medicine this week, David Beer and colleagues report the largest, most comprehensive validation study to characterize the performance of several prognostic models based on gene expression for 442 lung tumours. They examined whether measurements of gene expression alone or combined with clinical variables such as tumour stage, age or gender could be used to predict overall survival in lung cancer patients.

Several of the prognostic models they examined produced risk scores that substantially correlated with actual patient survival. Most models performed better with clinical data, supporting the combined use of clinical and molecular information when building prognostic models for early-stage lung cancer.

Author contact:
David Beer (University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, MI, USA)
Tel: +1 734 763 0325; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Geoscience: Heavy rains ahead
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo262

Extreme rainfall on timescales of hours could increase with climate change twice as fast as expected, according to research published online this week in Nature Geoscience. Downpours of such short durations can lead to local flooding, erosion and water damage.

Erik van Meijgaard and Geert Lenderink analysed hourly rainfall observations over the past 99 years from De Bilt in the Netherlands and simulated future climate change in a high-resolution regional climate model covering Europe. In both data sets, hourly precipitation extremes increased at a rate of 14% per degree centigrade of warming, whereas rates of 7% per degree would be expected from theoretical considerations.

Author contact:
Erik van Meijgaard (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), De Bilt, Netherlands)

Please note the author is currently travelling, please contact the following person:
Reinout Boers (Head of the KNMI Regional Climate division, De Bilt, Netherlands)
Tel: +31 30 2206481; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Medicine: Fighting tuberculosis with acid
DOI: 10.1038/nm.1795

Scientists have pinpointed a specific protein that helps tuberculosis fight off the body’s natural defence mechanism. The protein is able to withstand the acidification used by immune cells to engulf and digest the disease.

Acidification is an important mechanism used by immune cells or macrophages to fight Mycobacterium tuberculosis pathogens. It remains unclear, however, if acid kills the bacterium or if resistance to acidification is required for the development of the disease.

Online in Nature Medicine this week, Sabine Ehrt and colleagues found that Mycobacterium can actually survive the acidic environment inside macrophages due to a specific protein responsible for resistance. In the absence of this protein, Mycobacterium failed to survive, and its virulence was markedly reduced in mice.

On the basis of their findings, the authors propose that targeting the protein that creates resistance to acid is an attractive strategy against tuberculosis.

Author contact:
Sabine Ehrt (Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 212 746 2994; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] Chemical Biology: Rafting down biological cascades
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.103

Scientists have discovered new evidence for the existence of membrane rafts in living cells, providing new insights into the composition of cell membranes.

Membrane rafts are thought to be very small regions of the cell membrane that contain a unique arrangement of lipids and proteins. These rafts are thought to be important for localizing specific proteins or other biomolecules on the cell membrane. However, their existence remains controversial, as many of the techniques used to probe the membrane also may disrupt its normal organization.

Online this week in Nature Chemical Biology, Hai-Tao He and colleagues use a newly developed fluorescence technique, to investigate the cell membrane. They discover that the dynamic assembly of lipids known as ‘sphingolipids’ together with cholesterol is necessary for raft formation, and that rafts have a specific influence on downstream biological signalling.

Their observations also suggest that raft formation could be influenced by proteins that were thought to be passively floating on the membrane. This study therefore confirms the importance of rafts but also indicates that current models of raft formation may need revision.

Author contact:
Hai-Tao He (Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France)
Tel: +33 4 91 26 94 57; E-mail: [email protected]

[9] Nature: Animal behaviour lighting the way
DOI: 10.1038/nature07183

Researchers are a step closer to understanding how animals navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Experiments in fruitflies show that they use a blue-light photoreceptor to achieve magnetosensitivity, independent of its role in the circadian clock.

Animals are able to use the Earth’s magnetic field for orientation, but how they detect geomagnetic fields has been a matter of debate. Steven Reppert and colleagues describe in this week’s Nature how Drosophila use the photoreceptor cryptochrome (Cry) for magnetosensitive responses and do not require a functioning circadian clock. This work represents the first genetic evidence for a Cry-based magnetosensitive system in any animal.

Author contact:
Steven Reppert (University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 508 856 6148; E-mail: [email protected]

[10] And finally… Nanotechnology: Gold standard
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2008.200

Scientists have devised a nanotube-based mechanical sensor for weighing molecules, reports a paper online in Nature Nanotechnology this week. Unlike many existing mass spectrometers, the new device would not damage the molecules it is measuring. The authors test their new sensor by weighing a single atom of gold.

A gold atom has a mass of 3.25 x 10–25 kilograms, which means that there are about 3 million million million million gold atoms in a kilogram. The double-walled carbon nanotube used by Kenneth Jensen and co-workers is about 7,000 times heavier than a gold atom and measures just 2 nanometres across and 254 nanometres in length.

The nanotube is attached to an electrode at one end, leaving the other end free to vibrate like an extremely small diving board. When an atom or some object lands on the nanotube, the natural vibration frequency changes by an amount proportional to the mass of the object, enabling it to be weighed.

Author contact:
Kenneth Jensen (University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 510 642 0190; E-mail: [email protected]

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

Nature (

[11] Significant contribution of Archaea to extant biomass in marine subsurface sediments
DOI: 10.1038/nature07174

[12] Multipotent somatic stem cells contribute to the stem cell niche in the Drosophila testis
DOI: 10.1038/nature07173

[13] Single-nucleotide mutation rate increases close to insertions/deletions in eukaryotes
DOI: 10.1038/nature07175


[14] A small molecule enhances RNA interference and promotes microRNA processing
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1481


[15] A traffic-activated Golgi-based signalling circuit coordinates the secretory pathway
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1751

[16] Actin restricts FceRI diffusion and facilitates antigen-induced receptor immobilization
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1755

[17] Modulation of intracellular trafficking regulates cell intercalation in the Drosophila trachea
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1756

[18] Targeting WW domains linker of HECT-type ubiquitin ligase Smurf1 for activation by CKIP-1
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1760

[19] Epidermal JunB represses G-CSF transcription and affects haematopoiesis and bone formation
DOI: 10.1038/ncb1761


[20] Ribosomal mutations cause p53-mediated dark skin and pleiotropic effects
DOI: 10.1038/ng.188

[21] Dynamic transcriptome of Schizosaccharomyces pombe shown by RNA-DNA hybrid mapping
DOI: 10.1038/ng.196


[22] Function of TRADD in tumor necrosis factor receptor 1 signaling and in TRIF-dependent inflammatory responses
DOI 10.1038/ni.1638

[23] The function of TRADD in signaling through tumor necrosis factor receptor 1 and TRIF-dependent Toll-like receptors
DOI 10.1038/ni.1639


[24] Water-soluble organo-silica hybrid nanowires
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2232

[25] Lithium deintercalation in LiFePO4 nanoparticles via a domino-cascade model
DOI: 10.1038/nmat2230


[26] Colloid-guided assembly of oriented 3D neuronal networks
DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1236

[27] Robust single particle tracking in live cell time-lapse sequences
DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1237


[28] Late lessons from early warnings for nanotechnology
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2008.198

[29] Approaching ballistic transport in suspended graphene
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2008.199


[30] PICK1 uncoupling from mGluR7a causes absence-like seizures
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2142

[31] Increased dopamine after mating impairs olfaction and prevents odor interference with pregnancy
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2154

[32] Pikachurin, a dystroglycan ligand, is essential for photoreceptor ribbon synapse formation
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2160

[33] Suppression of male courtship by a Drosophila pheromone receptor
DOI: 10.1038/nn.2161


[34] A high-efficiency display based on a telescopic pixel design
DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2008.133

Nature PHYSICS (

[35] Strong correlations make high-temperature superconductors robust against disorder
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1026

[36] Irreversible reorganization in a supercooled liquid originates from localized soft modes
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1025

[37] Giant phonon-induced conductance in scanning tunnelling spectroscopy of gate-tunable graphene
DOI: 10.1038/nphys1022


[38] The splicing factor SC35 has an active role in transcriptional elongation
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1461

[39] Mutation in TERT separates processivity from anchor-site function
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1462

[40] NMR structure of chaperone Chz1 complexed with histones H2A.Z-H2B
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1465

[41] The ClC-0 chloride channel is a ‘broken’ Cl-/H+ antiporter
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1466


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.

Sydney: 36

Vienna: 1, 19

Kingston: 5
Toronto: 5, 27, 40

Beijing: 14, 18
Nanjing: 13
Shanghai: 18

Zagreb: 1

Lyngby: 28

Grenoble: 25
Marseille: 8
Montpellier: 30
Paris: 8
Pessac: 25
Toulouse: 8

Bayreuth: 24
Bremen: 11
Cologne: 22
Dresden: 26
Frankfurt: 30
Neuherberg: 20

Vari: 22

Mumbai: 35

Haifa: 35

Chieti: 15
Monterotondo: 22, 31

Kochi: 11
Nagoya: 32
Osaka: 32

De Bilt: 6

Barcelona: 17
Madrid: 19

Uppsala: 1

Epalinges: 22
Zurich: 30

London: 1


Huntsville: 20

Tempe: 2

Berkeley: 10, 26, 37
La Jolla: 12, 27, 38
Palo Alto: 38
San Francisco: 4, 20
Stanford: 20, 41

Boulder: 39

District of Columbia
Washington: 28

Jupiter: 14
Tampa: 5

Atlanta: 3, 14

Chicago: 13, 14

Baltimore: 30
Bethesda: 23, 40
Rockville: 5

Boston: 1, 5, 15
Cambridge: 1, 5
Lowell: 28
Worcester: 9

Ann Arbor: 5, 20
East Lansing: 5

Reno: 4

New Jersey
Piscataway: 29

New Mexico
Albuquerque: 16

New York
Broadway: 36
New York: 5, 7, 15, 17

North Carolina
Durham: 33

Columbus: 35

University Park: 2

Dallas: 14

Salt Lake City: 21

Redmond: 34
Seattle: 34


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Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail: [email protected]

Katherine Anderson (Nature New York)
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail: [email protected]

Ruth Francis (Head of Press, Nature, London)
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail: [email protected]

For media inquiries relating to editorial content/policy for the Nature Research Journals, please contact the journals individually:

Nature Biotechnology (New York)
Peter Hare
Tel: +1 212 726 9284; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Cell Biology (London)
Bernd Pulverer
Tel: +44 20 7843 4892; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Chemical Biology (Boston)
Andrea Garvey
Tel: +1 617 475 9241, E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Genetics (New York)
Orli Bahcall
Tel: +1 212 726 9311; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Geoscience (London)
Heike Langenberg
Tel: +44 20 7843 4042; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Immunology (New York)
Laurie Dempsey
Tel: +1 212 726 9372; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Materials (London)
Alison Stoddart
Tel: +44 20 7843 4593; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Medicine (New York)
Juan Carlos Lopez
Tel: +1 212 726 9325; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Methods (New York)
Hugh Ash
Tel: +1 212 726 9627; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Nanotechnology (London)
Peter Rodgers
Tel: +44 20 7014 4019; Email: [email protected]

Nature Neuroscience (New York)
Kalyani Narasimhan
Tel: +1 212 726 9319; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Photonics (Tokyo)
Oliver Graydon
Tel: +81 3 3267 8776; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Physics (London)
Alison Wright
Tel: +44 20 7843 4555; E-mail: [email protected]

Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (New York)
Michelle Montoya
Tel: +1 212 726 9326; E-mail: [email protected]

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Published: 21 Jul 2008

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