This press release is copyright Nature. VOL.440 NO.7083 DATED 23 MARCH 2006
This press release contains:
* Disease: Why bird flu doesn't spread between humans
* Geology: The oldest evidence of methane makers
* Molecular nanotechnology: Pedal power
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 Disease: Why bird flu doesn't spread between humans (pp 435-436)
Human-to-human transmission of the deadly H5N1 bird influenza virus is rare,
despite the fact that the virus can replicate efficiently in human lungs.
Now researchers have found a useful indication as to why - the bird virus
preferentially binds to cells in different regions of the human airway from
those favoured by human influenza viruses.
Flu viruses infecting humans and birds are known to home in on slightly
different versions of the same molecule, found on the surface of cells that
line the respiratory tract. Researchers led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka show in a
Brief Communication in this week's Nature how this may manifest in patients.
Whereas the version of the molecule preferentially bound by human viruses is
more prevalent on cells higher up in the airway, the molecule that is
preferentially targeted by avian viruses tends to be found on cells deep
within the lungs, in structures called alveoli.
This may explain why human-to-human transmission of H5N1 remains uncommon,
the authors suggest. The virus may preferentially enter cells deep down
inside the lungs, meaning that an infected person is less likely to spread
the virus by coughing or sneezing. The researchers add, however, that
acquiring the ability to infect cells higher up in the airway may be a
crucial step towards realizing the threat of H5N1 causing a human pandemic.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka (University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA)
Tel: +1 608 265 4925; E-mail: [email protected]
 Geology: The oldest evidence of methane makers (pp 516-519; N&V)
Methanogenic microbes - methane-making micro-organisms - are thought to be
among Earth's earliest life forms. Exactly when they first appeared, though,
has always been uncertain. No one has been able to find direct geological
evidence to support the hypothesis that they existed in the Archaean era,
3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago.
But as reported in this week's Nature, Yuichiro Ueno and colleges
have been busy. The Japanese researchers have found evidence of
methane-bearing fluid inclusions in about 3.5-billion-year-old hydrothermal
precipitates from the Pilbara craton in Western Australia. Their analyses -
through carbon isotope composition - indicate the methane is of microbial
It is the oldest evidence of methanogen existence, pre-dating
previous circumstantial geochemical evidence by about 700 million years.
Microbial methane may have been important in regulating the climate on the
Archaean Earth - potentially providing sufficient amounts of the greenhouse
gas to mitigate the severely frozen conditions.
Yuichiro Ueno (Tokyo Institute of Technology, Yokohama, Japan)
Tel: +81 45 924 5142; E-mail: [email protected]
Don Canfield (Odense University, Odense, Denmark)
Tel: +45 6550 2751; E-mail: [email protected]
 Molecular nanotechnology: Pedal power (pp 512-515)
A set of molecular pedals that is powered by light and twists another
molecule is reported in Nature this week by Takuzo Aida and co-workers. The
molecule-sized device extends previous work on 'molecular machines' by
showing how motion induced in one component can be transferred to another.
Several research groups have shown that molecules that change shape
when irradiated with light can be used to create molecular motors and other
devices with moving parts. But in order to carry out useful tasks with such
minuscule components, they will probably have to be linked up to other
molecules, in much the same way as the mechanical motions of pistons in a
car engine are transferred via crankshafts and gears to the wheels.
Aida and colleagues have made a set of molecular pedals in which the
absorption of light in one part of the molecule introduces a kink which
drives the scissor-like swivelling of the pedal units around a kind of
molecular ball-bearing. The challenge was then to transfer this swinging
motion to another molecule, which they did by designing the pedals so that
they trapped a 'guest' molecule between them. When the pedals swivelled, the
guest molecule became twisted. The researchers suggest that sequences of
such interlocking motions might allow remote control of molecular-scale
Takuzo Aida (The University of Tokyo, School of Engineering, Tokyo, Japan)
Tel: +81 3 5841 7251; E-mail: [email protected]
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