Two takes on regulating genetic testing

Summaries of newsworthy papers include: Wired for anxiety?; Oscillating convection cells in marine cloud fields; Ancient mantle reservoir identified; A closer look at ferromagnets; A fractal surprise in a high-temperature superconductor

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Neuroscience: Wired for anxiety?

Opinion: Two takes on regulating genetic testing

Atmospheric science: Oscillating convection cells in marine cloud fields

Geology: Ancient mantle reservoir identified

Physics: A closer look at ferromagnets

Physics: A fractal surprise in a high-temperature superconductor

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

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Neuroscience: Wired for anxiety? (pp 864-868; N&V)

The heritability of brain activity underlying anxious temperament (AT) is outlined in a Nature paper this week. As AT is an important risk factor for the development of depression and anxiety disorders, this work may provide an insight into the relative role of genetics in their development.

Ned Kalin and colleagues tested AT in over 200 young rhesus monkeys by placing them in mildly stressful situations. The monkeys belonged to a multigenerational family of over 1,500 individuals and heritability in relation to AT could be traced throughout. The team found that metabolic activity in the anterior hippocampal area of the brain during stressful situations showed strong heritability; however, there was no significant heritability in the dorsal amygdala — both areas are known to be important in emotion and psychopathology. This suggests that genes and environment may have different effects on these two highly interlinked brain areas in AT.

This work provides a model that could be used to investigate further the genetic and environmental mechanisms that may affect the amygdala and hippocampus differently in relation to other anxiety disorders.

Author contact:
Ned Kalin (University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA)
Tel: +1 608 263 6079
E-mail: [email protected]

Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg (Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany)
N&V author
Tel: +49 612 17032001
E-mail: [email protected]

Opinion: Two takes on regulating genetic testing (pp 816-818)

Recent events suggest that the US FDA is gearing up to control at least some aspects of genetic-testing services. In this week’s Nature, two Opinion articles offer contrasting views on how the FDA, and other regulators worldwide, should balance protecting the public and promoting innovation.

Arthur Beaudet advocates banning all direct-to-consumer genetic testing. For clinical diagnostics, he says the FDA should apply stringent regulation to the performance of genetic tests (to ensure, for instance, that tests provide accurate and reliable genotype or sequence data) but leave the interpretation of clinical test results to board-certified practitioners. Writes Beaudet, “If the FDA regulates the interpretation of genetic tests in impractical detail, at best, a huge amount of government time and money will be wasted. At worst, genetic diagnostics will grind to a halt”.

In the second Opinion article, Gail Javitt counters that “a categorical ban on direct-to-consumer testing using validated tests would be difficult for the FDA to justify”. She argues that the FDA should regulate all health-related genetic tests, including those provided directly to consumers, under a common framework using tools it already has. Javitt concludes “Whether a test can be delivered directly to consumers should depend on its level of risk — as is the case for other FDA-regulated products”.

Author contact:
Arthur Beaudet (Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA)
Tel: +1 713 798 4795
E-mail: [email protected]

Gail Javitt (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA)
Tel: +1 202 736 8980
E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Atmospheric science: Oscillating convection cells in marine cloud fields (pp 849-852)

A newly identified, oscillating pattern of atmospheric convection, caused by precipitation in low marine clouds, is reported this week in Nature. The findings highlight the role of precipitation in determining cloud patterns, which affect the Earth’s climate by influencing the amount of sunlight reflected back into space.

The vast sheets of low clouds that extend along the west coasts of continents often exhibit cell-like structures associated with convection at scales of tens of kilometres. The physical mechanisms controlling these convection patterns are poorly understood, making it difficult to simulate the effects of these clouds on climate.

Graham Feingold and colleagues combine satellite imagery with numerical simulation to show how precipitating clouds form a self-organized system of open (low-reflectivity) cells, which oscillates between different states. The authors find the source of the oscillation in downdraughts driven by evaporating precipitation. When these downdraughts reach the Earth’s surface they diverge to form outflows that collide with those from neighbouring cells. The resulting surface convergence zones give rise to new clouds, displaced from the previous ones. These clouds produce precipitation, and the cycle begins again. The result is a spatially varying pattern of clouds and precipitation, with a characteristic cell size and precipitation frequency.

Author contact:
Graham Feingold (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO, USA)
The author is travelling and will be available until 06 August on: +1 303 579 4168
After 06 August on: +1 303 497 3098
E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Geology: Ancient mantle reservoir identified (pp 853-856; N&V)

Scientists have discovered evidence for an ancient reservoir of material preserved in the Earth’s mantle that could be parental to all modern volcanism. Firm evidence for the survival of a mantle reservoir this old is unprecedented, and indicates that even vigorous mixing over geologic time was insufficient to destroy the reservoirs that formed early in Earth’s history.

Ocean island lavas with relatively large amounts of the helium isotope 3He are thought to be remnants of a primordial terrestrial reservoir preserved inside the Earth since its formation. But these lavas have never been found to display the isotopic compositions of lead that would indicate that they are of ancient origin. It was thought that rocks with such primordial chemical composition might no longer exist, as mantle mixing and the recycling of oceanic material by subduction both act to destroy the traces of early mantle reservoirs.

In Nature this week, Matthew Jackson and colleagues analyse the isotopic compositions of a suite of lavas from West Greenland and Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. These rocks, previously found to host the highest terrestrial-mantle 3He/4He ratios, also have the primitive lead-isotope ratios consistent with an ancient mantle source age of about 4.5 billion years. The combined helium, lead and neodymium isotopic compositions of these lavas suggest that their source is the most ancient accessible reservoir in the Earth's mantle.

Author contact:
Matthew Jackson (Boston University, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 358 5891
E-mail: [email protected]

David Graham (Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 541 737 4140
E-mail: [email protected]

[4] Physics: A closer look at ferromagnets (pp 845-848)

A new nanoscale imaging tool, called ferromagnetic resonance force microscopy, is described in this week’s Nature. Combining the precision of ferromagnetic resonance spectroscopy with the sensitivity and imaging capabilities of magnetic resonance force microscopy, the technique will be invaluable for the detailed characterization of ferromagnets used in fields ranging from spintronics to biomagnetism.

Rapid advances in nanomagnetics research have brought powerful applications in magnetic sensing and memory technologies. But until now, no high-resolution magnetic imaging tool has been available to characterize the complex, often buried, nanoscale structures used in these applications. Magnetic resonance force microscopy — an exquisitely sensitive scanning-probe technique that provides magnetic resonance images at nanometre scales — is unfortunately not applicable to ferromagnets. This is because the strong interactions among electron spins in these materials favour extended resonance modes, so that a measurement made in one location is affected by the magnetic field in the remainder of the sample.

Chris Hammel and colleagues now show that the intense, spatially confined magnetic field of a micromagnetic probe tip can be used to localize ferromagnetic resonance modes immediately beneath the probe. This allows magnetic images to be obtained with a resolution of 200 nanometres. The technique can be used to study either buried or surface magnets, at high spatial resolution and with high (‘spectroscopic’) precision.

Author contact:
Chris Hammel (Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA)
Tel: +1 614 247 6928
E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Physics: A fractal surprise in a high-temperature superconductor (pp 841-844; N&V)

The scale-free, ‘fractal’ organization that characterizes landscapes, stock markets and other complex systems has turned up in an unexpected context: the distribution of interstitial oxygen atoms in the high-temperature superconductor La2CuO4+y. Even more intriguingly, it seems that the fractal structure seems to promote superconductivity.

Excess oxygen atoms in the La2O2+y spacer layers of La2CuO4+y provide the ‘holes’ needed for superconductivity in the CuO2 planes. Antonio Bianconi and colleagues studied the distribution of these interstitial oxygens in several samples of superconducting La2CuO4+y, using a scanning X-ray diffraction technique that reveals how the atomic structure varies on the scale of micrometres. As the authors describe in this week’s Nature, the spatial organization of the oxygen atoms is scale-free — that is, it looks the same when viewed at all spatial scales — up to a maximum cut-off length of 400 micrometres, for the sample with the highest transition temperature. The larger the cut-off length, the higher the transition temperature, suggesting that the fractal structure promotes superconductivity.

In an accompanying News and Views article, Jan Zaanen discusses the “astonishing” finding, and considers a possible connection between the scale-invariance of the oxygen distribution and the hypothesized ‘quantum critical’ electronic state, thought to be involved in the transition to high-temperature superconductivity.

Author contact
Antonio Bianconi (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy)
Tel: +39 338 843 8281
E-mail: [email protected]

Jan Zaanen (Leiden University, Netherlands) N&V author
Tel: +31 71 527 5506
E-mail: [email protected]


[6] Mammalian microRNAs predominantly act to decrease target mRNA levels (pp 835-840)

[7] Mesenchymal and haematopoietic stem cells form a unique bone marrow niche (pp 829-824)

[8] Structure of the LexA–DNA complex and implications for SOS box measurement (pp 883-886)


***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 11 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 12 August, but at a later date. ***

[9] Statistical inference for noisy nonlinear ecological dynamic systems
DOI: 10.1038/nature09319


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.

Montreal: 3

Beijing: 2

Grenoble: 5

Rehovot: 2

Rome: 5

Madrid: 7

Bath: 9
London: 5
Southampton: 7
Swindon: 3


La Jolla: 8
San Francisco: 6

Boulder: 2

District of Columbia
Washington: 3
Chicago: 8

Boston: 3, 7
Cambridge: 6
Woods Hole: 3

New York
Bronx: 7
Cold Spring Harbor: 7
New York: 7

Columbus: 4

Houston: 1
San Antonio: 1

Richland: 2

Madison: 1


From North America and Canada
Neda Afsarmanesh, Nature New York
Tel: +1 212 726 9231
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
Rebecca Walton, Nature, London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502
E-mail: [email protected]

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Published: 11 Aug 2010

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