The stage is set for another food crisis

Water vapour in ‘hot-Jupiter’ atmosphere?, Heating far-off oceans, The stage is set for another food crisis, Antibody therapy helps SIV-infected monkeys, Changing its spots, Mirror image molecules made with ease, Melanoma mutation, Solid-state storage device for single photons and Bacterial clean-up job


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.456 NO.7223 DATED 11 DECEMBER 2008

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Extrasolar planets: Water vapour in ‘hot-Jupiter’ atmosphere?

Planetary science: Heating far-off oceans

Commentary: The stage is set for another food crisis

Immunology: Antibody therapy helps SIV-infected monkeys

Parasites: Changing its spots

Organic chemistry: Mirror image molecules made with ease

Cancer: Melanoma mutation

Quantum optics: Solid-state storage device for single photons

And finally… Bacterial clean-up job

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Extrasolar planets: Water vapour in ‘hot-Jupiter’ atmosphere? (pp 767-769; N&V)

The strongest evidence yet suggesting the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere of a ‘hot-Jupiter’ planet is described in this week’s Nature.

Carl Grillmair and colleagues studied the infrared spectrum of the extrasolar planet HD 189733b and detected the signature of water absorption. This indicates the presence of atmospheric water vapour.

The finding settles doubts that arose from previous studies with ambiguous or contradictory results. ‘Hot-Jupiters’ are extrasolar planets, of masses similar to or greater than that of Jupiter, that orbit their parent stars closely.

Carl Grillmair (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 62 6395 8073; E-mail: [email protected]

Drake Deming (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, MD, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 301 286 6519; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Planetary science: Heating far-off oceans (pp 770-772)

Sufficient heat to maintain liquid oceans within the icy moons of the outer planets may be supplied by tidally-excited waves within the oceans themselves, according to research published in Nature. The study proposes that a previously neglected tidal force, resulting from the obliquity of the moons, may provide significantly more energy than the previously studied tidal motions of their solid interiors.

The surfaces of the icy moons, such as Jupiter’s Europa, are covered by thick layers of ice, but there is mounting evidence that liquid oceans exist beneath at least some of their surfaces. The extremely cold surface temperatures and little heat supplied by radiogenic sources indicate that the oceans should freeze, but it has been suggested that heat from tidal forces within the solid interiors of the moons — caused by the moon orbiting around the planet — may supply enough heat to keep the oceans liquid.

Robert Tyler shows that a previously unconsidered tidal force due to obliquity — the axial tilt of the moon with respect to its orbital plane — has the right form and frequency to create large-amplitude planetary waves within the oceans themselves. The dissipation of the energy of these waves appears large enough to be the primary ocean heat source.

Robert Tyler (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA)
Tel: +1 206 221 2362; E-mail: [email protected]

Commentary: The stage is set for another food crisis (pp 701)

The credit crunch is likely to have strong and long-lasting effects on emerging economies, food prices and on the people most in need, warns Joachim von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In a Commentary in this week's Nature, von Braun suggests ways in which the world can keep food prices in check and ensure a well-fed future population.

The situation is potentially dire, but investment in research and development (R&D) could keep long-term food prices at reasonable levels. IFPRI models suggest that if global economic annual growth falls by 2-3 percentage points and investment in agricultural R&D also declines, by 2020, cereal prices will have risen 30% above what would have been expected without a recession. But if spending on agricultural R&D is maintained despite the recession, cereal prices would be about 15% lower than the non-recession baseline in 2020.

Action also needs to be taken to improve market efficiency and food trade in crisis situations. This would help avoid the price bubbles that can hit poor people so hard. The IFPRI recommends an internationally-coordinated emergency reserve of 300,000 tonnes of grain, a global intelligence unit to advise when market intervention is needed and an international body to act through the futures market if grain prices were driven into a price bubble again.

However, writes von Braun, “the successful resolution of the food crisis should not be measured by the drop of commodity prices to previous levels, but by sufficient food on poor people’s plates today and long into the future”.

Joachim von Braun (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA)
Tel: +1 202 862 6496; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Immunology: Antibody therapy helps SIV-infected monkeys (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature07662

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 10 December 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 11 December, but at a later date. ***

A new therapy boosts the immune response and prolongs the survival of monkeys chronically infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). The finding, reported in this week’s Nature, may aid the development of new therapeutics for human immunodeficiency virus infections.

Treating SIV-infected monkeys with an antibody that blocks the programmed death 1 (PD-1) receptor rapidly boosts the numbers of virus-specific CD8 T cells — white blood cells that destroy virally infected cells — and significantly reduces plasma viral load. Critically, the treatment is well tolerated and prolongs the survival of infected animals. It can also be given during the early or late phases of chronic SIV infection to similar effect.

The study, performed by Rama Rao Amara and colleagues, shows how a single inhibitory pathway can suppress virus-specific T-cell responses during SIV infection. Combining the treatment with anti-retrovirals and/or therapeutic vaccination could help improve the outcome.

Rama Rao Amara (Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA)
Tel: +1 404 727 8765; E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Parasites: Changing its spots (pp 750-754)

The mechanism a gut parasite uses to disguise itself is reported this week in Nature. The research explains how the parasite gives the immune system the slip.

Giardia lamblia causes nasty diarrhoea in humans and is a major cause of intestinal disease worldwide. It camouflages itself by switching expression of proteins on its surface — variant-specific surface proteins (VSPs) — to escape detection by the immune system. To do this it uses a mechanism similar to RNA interference (RNAi), find Hugo Luján and colleagues.

The parasite produces fragments of RNA that knockout all but one vsp gene at any one time. When the team deactivated its RNAi machinery, the parasite expressed multiple VSP proteins. This could be a useful tool for generating a vaccine against this important infectious agent, suggest the authors.

Hugo Luján (Catholic University of Cordoba, Argentina)
Tel: +54 351 486 0708; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Organic chemistry: Mirror image molecules made with ease (pp 778-782; N&V)

A new and simple method for making a notoriously tricky type of chiral or ‘handed’ molecule is revealed in this week’s Nature. The desired mirror image of a broad range of chiral tertiary alcohols can now be easily produced.

It can be difficult to selectively synthesize only a single mirror image of a molecule that contains a quaternary stereogenic centre (a carbon atom with four different non-hydrogen substituents). But Varinder Aggarwal and colleagues have developed a two-step process that can be used to convert readily available secondary alcohols into single mirror image forms of tertiary alcohols that contain quaternary stereogenic centres. Either mirror image of the tertiary alcohol can be made with very high levels of stereocontrol.

Varinder Aggarwal (Bristol University, UK)
Tel: +44 117 954 6315; E-mail: [email protected]

Karl Hansen (Amgen Inc, Cambridge, MA, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 617 444 5150; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Cancer: Melanoma mutation (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature07586

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 10 December 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 11 December, but at a later date. ***

Newly discovered mutations may cause certain types of melanoma, a Nature paper suggests. The finding should aid the development of therapeutic intervention against some melanomas.

Uveal melanoma is a cancer arising from the cells that give colour to the eye. Boris Bastian and colleagues report that around 45% of uveal melanomas are caused by mutations in the G protein alpha-subunit, GNAQ. In extending their study, they find that 80% of another type of cancerous mole — blue naevi — is also caused by this mutation.

The mutation leads to the activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway — a signalling pathway that has previously been implicated in many other types of melanoma.

Boris Bastian (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 415 476 5132; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Quantum optics: Solid-state storage device for single photons (pp 773-777)

A solid-state device that enables single light particles to be stored and retrieved has been developed. The discovery, reported in this week’s Nature, should aid the realization of scalable quantum information networks.

The new device, developed by Hugues de Riedmatten and colleagues, acts as a quantum interface for light and matter. It couples single photons with large numbers of atoms naturally trapped in a solid. The quantum state of the light particle is mapped onto collective atomic excitations and can be stored for up to one microsecond before being retrieved again.

Quantum interfaces between light and matter have been demonstrated before, but mainly with atomic gases that involve sophisticated schemes to trap the atoms. The new method offers a potentially more practical alternative.

Hugues de Riedmatten (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Tel: +41 223 796 841; E-mail: [email protected]

[8] And finally… Bacterial clean-up job (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature07588

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 10 December 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 11 December, but at a later date. ***

Sulphide-oxidizing bacteria can rapidly detoxify sulphide in the open ocean, according to a Nature paper published this week. The finding suggests that high sulphide concentrations may develop more frequently than previously thought and that the detoxifying bacteria may help to protect coastal ecosystems.

Marcel Kuypers and colleagues studied a 7,000 km2 area of the African shelf and found that two types of bacteria oxidized the biologically harmful sulphide to environmentally harmless colloidal sulphur and sulphate.

The bacteria create a buffer zone between the oxygen-rich surface waters — where fish and other creatures can survive — and the toxic subsurface waters. This is the first time that such large-scale bacterial detoxification of sulphide-rich waters has been shown in the open ocean.

Marcel Kuypers (Max PIanck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany)
Tel: +42 12 02 86 47; E-mail: [email protected]


[9] Negative feedback that improves information transmission in yeast signalling (pp 755-761)

[10] Strain accommodation by slow slip and dyking in a youthful continental rift, East Africa (pp 783-787)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 10 December 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 11 December, but at a later date. ***

[11] Endochondral ossification is required for haematopoietic stem-cell niche formation
DOI: 10.1038/nature07547

[12] Contact inhibition of locomotion in vivo controls neural crest directional migration
DOI: 10.1038/nature07441


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.

Buenos Aires: 9
Cordoba: 4

Vienna: 8

Ghent: 10
Liege: 10
Tervuren: 10

Vancouver: 6

Plouzane: 10
Valbonne: 10

Bremen: 8
Rostock: 8
Tubingen: 6

Luxembourg City: 10

Swakopmund: 8

Delft: 10

Barcelona: 9

Stockholm: 8

Geneva: 7

Dar es Salaam: 10
Dodoma: 10

Bristol: 5
London: 12


Tempe: 9

Alameda: 11
Berkeley: 9
Emeryville: 9
Mountain View: 9
Pasadena: 1
San Francisco: 6, 9
Stanford: 6, 11

Boulder: 1

Atlanta: 3

West Lafayette: 10

Boston: 3
Cambridge: 1

New Jersey
Princeton: 1

New York
New York: 10
Upton: 9

Philadelphia: 3

Seattle: 1, 2, 9


From North America and Canada
Katherine Anderson, Nature New York
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail: [email protected]

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

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

From the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Jen Middleton, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail [email protected]

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Published: 10 Dec 2008

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