From Atomic lasers to social networking among hunter-gatherers

Latest news from Nature 26 January 2012

This press release contains:

---Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Stem cells: Using iPSCs to model Alzheimer’s disease

Comment: A phase shift in oil

Parasitology: Treating sleeping sickness

Physics: Atomic X-ray laser

Astrophysics: Magnetic fields in the early Universe

Quantum physics: Finite speed of information propagation in quantum many-body systems

And finally... Hunter-gatherer social networks

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

---Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Stem cells: Using iPSCs to model Alzheimer’s disease (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10821

Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology can be used to study traits of Alzheimer’s disease, reports a study in Nature. This technique could improve understanding of the underlying mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and could also be used to study patient-specific responses to therapy.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by elevated levels of the proteins amyloid-band phosphorylated tau in the brain, although the causative relationship between these factors is unclear. Limited availability of live neurons from patients and difficulties in modelling the sporadic form of the disease make it hard to investigate the relationship of these traits. Lawrence Goldstein and colleagues overcame these challenges using iPSC technology, which enabled the authors to reprogram cells from four patients with familial or sporadic Alzheimer’s disease and two dementia-free controls to produce cultures of neurons.

Elevated levels of secreted amyloid-beta(1–40), phosphorylated tau and another major biochemical marker called active GSK-3-beta were observed in iPSC-derived neurons from the Alzheimer’s disease patients. Treatment with beta-secretase inhibitors, but not gamma-secretase inhibitors, caused significant reduction in phosphorylated tau and active GSK-3-beta levels. From these findings the authors infer that pathways involve in producing amyloid-beta(1–40) have a causative role in elevating phosphorylated tau and active GSK-3-beta levels.

Lawrence Goldstein (University of California, San Diego, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 534 9702; E-mail: [email protected]


Comment: A phase shift in oil (pp 433-435)

The impact of dwindling oil supplies on the economy is a persuasive argument for shifting away from fossil fuels, write James Murray and David King in a Comment piece in Nature this week.

There was a ‘tipping point’ for oil in 2005. Before then, production of crude oil increased to meet rising demand. But since 2005, production has been limited to about 75 million barrels a day, and it doesn’t seem to be possible to increase supply beyond that to respond to spikes in demand. The result is wild price swings and economic instability that can trigger financial crises, including the one from which we are now emerging.

“Others have remarked on this step change in the economics of oil around the year 2005, but the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy-makers,” say Murray and King. Industry groups often argue that oil-reserve estimates are actually increasing, and that alternative oil sources — such as tar sands — or ‘fracking’ for shale gas, will save the world from any shortages. But the authors argue that there is less available fossil fuel than many people think. Production at existing oil fields is declining by 4.5–6.7% a year. A 2011 estimate of coal production was 40% less than 2005 estimates, and about five times less than assumed by some Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios.

“The approaches needed for tackling the economic impacts of resource scarcity and climate change are the same: moving away from a dependence on fossil-fuel energy sources,” the authors write. “Emphasizing the short-term economic imperative from oil prices must be enough to push governments into action now.”

James Murray (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA)
Tel: +1 206 543 4730; E-mail: [email protected]


[2] Parasitology: Treating sleeping sickness (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10771

The mechanisms behind drugs that treat African sleeping sickness are revealed in Nature this week. The work hints at how resistance occurs and should help not only with the design of new therapies, but help combat drug resistance of the parasite that causes the disease.

African trypanosomes are transmitted by the tsetse fly and circulate in the bloodstream of their mammalian hosts. They cause human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, which is endemic to much of sub-Saharan Africa and typically fatal. David Horn and colleagues used an RNA-interference-based genome-wide screen to identify the pathways involved in drug action and resistance mechanisms of the five most commonly applied drugs. They hope that the advance in understanding will facilitate better design of therapies and provide useful information for monitoring the emergence and spread of resistance.

David Horn (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK)
Tel: +44 20 7927 2352; E-mail: [email protected]


[3] Physics: Atomic X-ray laser (pp 488-491; N&V)

The first demonstration of an atomic laser in the kiloelectronvolt X-ray regime is reported in Nature this week. Atomic X-ray lasers could have applications in high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy and nonlinear X-ray studies.

Achieving lasing at increasingly shorter wavelengths has been a goal since the invention of the laser more than fifty years ago. Conventional lasing in an atomic system requires pumping to create a population inversion. Realizing such a laser in the high-energy X-ray regime is challenging because it requires ultrafast pumping. However, recently developed X-ray free-electron lasers produce X-ray pulses of ultrahigh intensity that make such pumping feasible.

Nina Rohringer and colleagues use the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford to validate the pumping technique of an X-ray free-electron laser and realise an atomic X-ray laser in neon. The X-ray pulse emissions produced by the atomic laser have better wavelength stability, monochromaticity, and temporal coherence than those of the XFEL.

Nina Rohringer (Max Planck Advanced Study Group, Hamburg, Germany)
Tel: +49 408 998 6258; E-mail: [email protected]

Jon Marangos (Imperial College London, UK) N&V author
Tel: +44 20 7594 7857; E-mail: [email protected]


[4] Astrophysics: Magnetic fields in the early Universe (pp 480-483)

An experiment to study how magnetic fields are produced in an astrophysical environment supports current theories of magnetic field generation in the early Universe. The work is reported in Nature this week.

The standard model for the origin of galactic magnetic fields is through the amplification of seed fields via dynamo or turbulent processes. Generation of these tiny magnetic fields is thought to precede the formation of galaxies. High-power laser systems have enabled Gianluca Gregori and colleagues to perform an experiment that produced seed magnetic fields by the Biermann battery effect, thereby verifying this theoretical process of magnetic-field generation.

The authors show that these results can be scaled to the intergalactic medium where turbulence acting on timescales of around 700 million years can amplify those seed fields.

Gianluca Gregori (University of Oxford, UK)
Tel: +44 1865 282639; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] Quantum physics: Finite speed of information propagation in quantum many-body systems (pp 484-487)

Observations of the dynamics that limit the speed of quantum information propagation in non-relativistic interacting quantum systems are reported in Nature this week. Understanding these quantum dynamics may aid developments in fast quantum computations.

In relativistic quantum field theory, information propagation is restricted by the speed of light. Although no such limit exists in the non-relativistic case, information propagation might be constrained by short-range interactions, and theoretical experiments suggest that a maximal velocity exists. Stefan Kuhr and co-workers confirm this theory in a one-dimensional non-relativistic interacting quantum many-body system, revealing that propagating correlations spread with a finite velocity.

These findings may lead to the study of quantum dynamics in higher dimensions, and may be important for engineering efficient quantum channels necessary for fast quantum computations, the authors conclude.

Stefan Kuhr (Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik, Garching, Germany)
Tel: +49 89 32905 738; E-mail: [email protected]


[6] And finally... Hunter-gatherer social networks (pp 497-501)

A study looking at the social networks of an isolated Tanzanian hunter-gatherer population in this week’s Nature reveals striking similarities to the structure of modern social networks. This work suggests that social networks may have co-evolved with the widespread cooperation observed in humans that we see today.

Human friendship is an unusual trait, relative to the behaviour of other species, and is largely defined by our willingness to cooperate with other humans. To investigate the evolution of cooperative networks, Nicholas Christakis and colleagues characterized the social networks of the Hadza hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Despite their isolation from modern society, their social network structure is similar to modernized social networks. Hadza social network traits include forming ties according to physical distance, perceived popularity (number of friends or friends in common) and similarity of cooperative behaviour.

These findings indicate that other factors can be as important as genetic relatedness in terms of forming cooperative networks. The authors conclude that social networks may have contributed to the emergence of cooperation.

Nicholas Christakis (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 432 5890; E-mail: [email protected]

Joseph Henrich (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada) N&V author
Tel: +1 604 822 3007; E-mail: [email protected]


Comment: Flu transmission work is urgent (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10884

The author of an upcoming Nature paper about H5N1 argues in a Nature Comment article today that research into deadly pathogenic viruses must continue if pandemics are to be prevented. Yoshihiro Kawaoka suggests, after reviewing many factors, that pursuing studies of highly pathogenic viruses must be done with urgency.

Two teams are ready to independently publish results showing that mutant H5N1 viruses can be transmitted between ferrets. Kawaoka and his colleagues generated viruses that combined the H5 haemagglutinin (HA) gene and genes from a pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, demonstrating that this mutant virus could spread from infected to uninfected ferrets via respiratory droplets in the air. The discovery that H5N1 could potentially be transmitted between mammals has led to fears both of misuse and of accidental release, but Kawaoka counters that H5N1 viruses circulating in nature may already pose a threat because influenza viruses constantly mutate and can cause pandemics. Indeed, a subset of the specific HA mutations identified by both teams has already been detected in H5N1 viruses circulating in certain countries. It is therefore imperative, Kawaoka argues, that these viruses are monitored closely so that eradication efforts and countermeasures can be focused on them if they should acquire transmissibility.

In response to scare stories about the H5N1 virus, he flags that the work also revealed that not all transmissible H5 HA-possessing viruses are lethal. In fact, his team showed that, in ferrets, the mutant H5 HA virus was no more deadly than the pandemic 2009 virus. Importantly, Kawaoka’s mutant virus did not kill any of the infected animals, and current vaccines and antiviral compounds were effective against it.

Kawaoka also argues that US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommendations to redact these papers will not eliminate the possibility of experiments being replicated by those who want to do harm. In reality, he says, there is already enough information publicly available to allow someone to make a transmissible H5HA-possessing virus. He also suggests that mechanisms proposed by the US government, in which researchers will submit individual applications to access results, will create a “huge administrative burden” which may cause delays in combating emerging pandemic threats.

He concludes that the redaction of these manuscripts, intended to contain risk, may in fact make it harder for legitimate scientists to get information, while failing to prevent it getting into the hands of those who wish to do harm. He instead suggests that the international community should focus on how to minimize risk while supporting scientific discovery.


Yoshihiro Kawaoka (University of Tokyo, Japan; and University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA)
E-mail: [email protected]

Please note Yoshihiro Kawaoka is travelling and email is the best contact for him.



[7] Endothelial and perivascular cells maintain haematopoietic stem cells (pp 457-462; N&V)


*** These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 25 January 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 26 January, but at a later date. ***

[8] Structure of the human M2 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor bound to an antagonist
DOI: 10.1038/nature10753

[9] Creation and diagnosis of a solid-density plasma with an X-ray free-electron laser
DOI: 10.1038/nature10746

[10] Gated regulation of CRAC channel ion selectivity by STIM1
DOI: 10.1038/nature10752

[11] Conditional modulation of spike-timing-dependent plasticity for olfactory learning
DOI: 10.1038/nature10776



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.

Vienna: 9

Prague: 9

Oulu: 1

Palaiseau: 4, 5

Frankfurt: 11
Garching: 5
Hamburg: 3, 9
Jena: 9
München: 5

Fukuoka: 8
Kyoto: 8
Osaka: 4
Tokyo: 8

Maastricht: 1

Kosice: 1

Geneva: 5
Zürich: 4

Cambridge: 2, 6
Didcot: 4
Glasgow: 4, 5
Hinxton: 2
London: 2
Oxford: 2, 4, 9
Reading: 9
York: 4

Berkeley: 9
La Jolla: 1
Livermore: 3, 4, 9
Los Angeles: 4
Menlo Park: 3, 9
Pasadena: 11
San Diego: 6
Stanford: 8
Fort Collins: 3
Chicago: 10
Boston: 6
Cambridge: 6
Ann Arbor: 4, 7
New York
New York: 7
Dallas: 7



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: 26 Jan 2012

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