Healing light fixes smart materials

Summaries of newsworthy papers on Healing light fixes smart materials; Manipulating mosquitoes to manage malaria; Mechanics of anxiety control; The future of the PhD; Detection of a footprint from one of Saturn’s moons; Refining the microbiome; TRIMming back virus infection; Serotonin from the placenta

Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Materials science: Healing light fixes smart materials
Genetics: Manipulating mosquitoes to manage malaria
Neuroscience: Mechanics of anxiety control
Special: The future of the PhD
Astrophysics: Detection of a footprint from one of Saturn’s moons
Genomics: Refining the microbiome
Immunology: TRIMming back virus infection
Neurodevelopment: Serotonin from the placenta

Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo
Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Materials science: Healing light fixes smart materials (pp 334-337; N&V)

Polymers that can be mended through exposure to light are described in a paper in this week’s Nature. This capability could improve the functionality and extend the lifetime of materials used in many applications.

Most approaches to healable polymer-based materials require heating of the damaged area. Christoph Weder and colleagues have created a self-healing rubbery material containing metal complexes, which absorb ultraviolet light and convert it into localized heat. The authors show that using light in this way has advantages over direct heating, such as specific targeting of the damaged area and possibly healing while under load.

Smart materials with an in-built ability to repair damage caused by normal usage could prove useful in transportation, construction, packaging and many other applications.

Christoph Weder (University of Fribourg, Marly, Switzerland)
Tel: +41 26 300 9465; E-mail: [email protected]

Nancy Sottos (University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 217 333 1041; E-mail: [email protected]

[2] Genetics: Manipulating mosquitoes to manage malaria (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature09937

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 20 April 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 21 April, but at a later date. ***

Scientists have demonstrated a mechanism that could reduce the incidence of malaria by genetically manipulating mosquito populations. The work, reported in Nature this week, may represent an important step towards the genetic control of insects for disease management.

Genetic approaches to manipulating or eradicating disease vectors have been proposed as attractive alternatives to existing methods of controlling malaria. The success of this approach depends on the efficient spread of a genetic modification in insect populations. Andrea Crisanti and colleagues show that a modified genetic element (the homing endonuclease gene I-SceI) can efficiently spread through caged populations of mosquitoes. The sequence-specific genetic drive element ‘homes’ to a particular portion of the DNA, where it becomes integrated into the broken chromosome.

This process — genetic drive — could be used to transmit a genetic manipulation through a population of mosquitoes that affects the insects’ ability to act as a disease vector. Crisanti’s team observe rapid invasion and persistence of I-SceI through several generations of caged mosquitoes. The findings demonstrate a new mechanism by which genetic control measures could be implemented.

Andrea Crisanti (Imperial College London, UK)
Tel: + 44 207 5945426; E-mail: [email protected]

The author may also be contacted via:
Simon Levey (Media Officer, Imperial College London, UK)
Tel: +44 20 75946702 or outside UK office hours tel: +44 7803 886248; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Neuroscience: Mechanics of anxiety control (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature09938

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 20 April 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 21 April, but at a later date. ***

A molecular pathway involved in the development of anxiety in mice is identified in a paper published in Nature this week.

There is often little significant correlation between exposure to traumatic events and subsequent development of anxiety disorders but the reason for this has remained unclear. Robert Pawlak and colleagues show that the abnormal molecular regulation of a major fear-related gene, Fkbp5, may have a role in the development of stress and anxiety in mice. The serine protease neuropsin is implicated in the differential expression of genes (including Fkbp5) after stress. Neuropsin instigates stress-related plasticity in the amygdala by regulating EphB2–NMDA receptor interactions. Mice lacking neuropsin do not exhibit the same dynamic plasticity in response to stress.

These findings highlight the importance of molecular pathways in the development of complex behaviours, such as anxiety.

Robert Pawlak (University of Leicester, UK)
Tel: +44 116 252 2930; E-mail: [email protected]

Special: The future of the PhD (pp 261, 276-286, 381)

What are the problems with the science PhD — and does it need reinvention? A series of articles in this week’s Nature explores these questions.
Scientists attaining a doctorate gain entry to an academic elite — but it isn’t as elite as it once was. A News Feature surveys the doctorate education systems in various countries around the world. Most countries are producing more PhDs year on year, or have plans to, because they see more educated workers as a key to economic growth.

But supply has outstripped demand. In many nations, including the United States and Japan, graduates confront a rapidly dwindling number of academic jobs and an industrial sector in no position to take up the slack. In some countries, such as China and India, the economy is developing fast enough to absorb all the PhDs they can crank out, and more — but the quality of those graduates is an issue. Just a few countries, such as Germany, are part way towards tackling the problem by redefining the PhD as training for a high-level position in many careers besides academia.

A second News Feature profiles various efforts to reinvent the science PhD. One programme focuses on ensuring its graduates’ success simply by selecting the best and throwing them in at the deep end; another trains students in multidisciplinary science; and in some cases, budding scientists are choosing to skip the PhD entirely.
In an accompanying Comment article, scientists share memories of PhDs completed in different decades, disciplines and locations, showing how much doctoral training has changed already.

In a World View article, Mark C. Taylor says that graduate education is unsustainable and that the responsible choice is to drastically cut down the number of programmes and reform them. And in a column in Careers, Peter Fiske discusses how much a PhD is really worth, and says that no programme of higher education can guarantee its graduates gainful and lucrative employment.

Nature is also launching this week a survey of graduate students’ job satisfaction and career intentions at go.nature.com/qsPLqS and will be holding a live Q&A about the future of the PhD on Thursday 21 April at 4 pm London time; please see the following blog post for further information: http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2011/04/future_of_the_phd_li...

For background information, please contact the press office.

[4] Astrophysics: Detection of a footprint from one of Saturn’s moons (pp 331-333)

Beams of electrons and ions going from one of Saturn's moons — Enceladus — to Saturn have been discovered. Such a beam from Jupiter's moon Io to Jupiter produces an auroral footprint. Subsequent to this, Enceladus's auroral footprint on Saturn was also found. These results from the Cassini mission appear in Nature this week.

Despite considerable differences between the magnetospheres of Saturn and Jupiter, cryovolcanic activity on Enceladus may connect it to Saturn in a somewhat similar way to the electrodynamic coupling between Jupiter and its Galilean moons, particularly Io. But the expected auroral ultraviolet emission for Saturn–Enceladus coupling is about an order of magnitude lower than the Io footprint and below the observable threshold from Earth. Abigail Rymer and colleagues calculated the brightness of the footprint as it would appear to the Cassini spacecraft, based upon the power in the electron and ion beams, and found it to be detectable.

The authors suggest this auroral footprint of Enceladus, the size of which varies by about a factor of 3, is likely to result from variation in plume activity on the moon, which ejects salty water ice particles into space. Thus, monitoring changes in auroral ultraviolet emission could provide evidence of variations in plume activity.

Abigail Rymer (Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, MD, USA)
Tel: +1 443 778 2736; E-mail: [email protected]

[5] Genomics: Refining the microbiome (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature09944

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 20 April 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 21 April, but at a later date. ***

Human gut microbes can be classified into just three distinct groups, indicates a comparative metagenomics study that posits a diagnostic potential for microbial markers.

The human gut contains many species of microbes that vary greatly between individuals. Yet despite this, they can be grouped into just three ‘enterotypes’ that are not nation or continent specific, Peer Bork and colleagues report in this week’s Nature.

The enterotypes are complex and unlikely to be driven by nutritional habits, and it is thought that they may help explain why individuals respond differently to various drugs and diets. The enterotypes do contain certain functional markers that correlate with individual features such as age and body mass index, a feature that could be used for diagnostic and perhaps even prognostic tools for numerous human disorders such as colorectal cancer and diabetes.

Peer Bork (European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany)
Tel: +49 6221 387 526; E-mail: [email protected]

[6] Immunology: TRIMming back virus infection (pp 361-365; N&V)

A step towards a better understanding of how the innate immune system detects retroviruses has been made, according to a paper published this week in Nature. The research uncovers the mechanisms by which a protein called TRIM5 can restrict infection by HIV-1 and other retroviruses.

TRIM5 is an E3 ubiquitin ligase with known antiviral activity, although the mechanisms involved are poorly understood. Jeremy Luban and colleagues demonstrate that TRIM5 initiates an innate immune response — the first line of defense to infections. This activity is enhanced in the presence of retroviruses and HIV-1 infection. Specifically, TRIM5 recognizes the retrovirus capsid lattice (a protein shell) and act as a sensor to stimulate the innate immune response.

Jeremy Luban (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Tel: +41 78 628 9722; E-mail: [email protected]

Christopher Aiken (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 615 343 7037; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] Neurodevelopment: Serotonin from the placenta (pp 347-350; N&V)

During fetal development, a significant source of serotonin (also called 5-HT) may come from the placenta, a study reveals. The findings, reported this week in Nature, suggest that alterations of tryptophan metabolic pathways in the placenta may affect placental serotonin synthesis and fetal forebrain development.

Although it is believed that maternal contributions to fetal serotonin levels during pregnancy may influence neurodevelopment, experimental data confirming this belief are lacking. Pat Levitt and colleagues demonstrate that the source of serotonin that accumulates in the brain during fetal development does not originate from the mother.

However, employing new techniques and using a number of genetic tools, the authors determine that a placental serotonin synthetic pathway from a maternal tryptophan precursor offers a substantial contribution to this source of serotonin, in both mice and humans. These data potentially implicate placental metabolic pathways in neurodevelopment through a complex maternal–placental–fetal interaction.

Pat Levitt (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 323 442 1509; E-mail: [email protected]

Ronald McKay (The Lieber Institute of Brain Development, Baltimore, MD, USA) N&V author
E-mail: [email protected]


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 20 April 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 them on this release to avoid multiple mailings they will not appear in print on 21 April, but at a later date. ***

[8] Sharply increased mass loss from glaciers and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
DOI: 10.1038/nature10089

[9] The Soret effect and isotopic fractionation in high-temperature silicate melts
DOI: 10.1038/nature09911


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.

Brussels: 5
Liège: 4

Minas Gerais: 5

Edmonton: 8
Ottawa: 8
Peterborough: 8

Shenzhen: 5

Aarhus: 5
Copenhagen: 5
Gentofte: 5
Lyngby: 5
Odense: 5

Helsinki: 5

Evry: 5
Jouy en Josas: 5
Meudon: 4
Paris: 6

Berlin: 5
Cologne: 4
Heidelberg: 5

Athens: 4

Perugia: 2

Kashiwa: 5
Kiyotake: 5
Nara: 3
Yokohama: 5

De Bilt: 8
Ede: 5

Oslo: 8

Krakow: 3

Barcelona: 5

Fribourg: 1
Geneva: 6
Zurich: 6

Ascot: 2
Dorking: 4
Leicester: 3, 4
London: 2, 4

Fairbanks: 8
Coolidge: 4
Berkeley: 9
La Jolla: 8
Los Angeles: 7
Pacific Palisades: 4
Pasadena: 4
San Diego: 9
Boulder: 4
New Haven: 6
Orlando: 4
Aberdeen Proving Ground: 1
Laurel: 4
Boston: 4
Westfield: 8
Ann Arbor: 8
Cleveland: 1, 7
Nashville: 7
Houston: 4
San Antonio: 4
Seattle: 2

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: 20 Apr 2011

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