Studying stars and Understanding the links between Cancer and Metabolism

Latest news from Nature 16/02/2012

This press release contains:

---Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Astrophysics: Star light, star bright

Biology: Advantage effects of prions in yeast

Comment: Regulate alcohol for global health

Oncology: Redefining childhood brain tumours

Geoscience: Origin of Columbia River flood basalt volcanism

Oncology: Understanding links between metabolism and cancer

Ageing: Age-related disease pathways

And finally... Winds of change

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

---Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Astrophysics: Star light, star bright (pp 375-378)

Observations of ‘light echoes’ from the eruption in the mid-nineteenth century of one of the Milky Way’s most massive binary stars are reported in this week’s Nature. The work suggests that the temperature during the ‘Great Eruption’ was notably cooler than expected, thereby placing important constraints on the eruption mechanism.

Eta Carinae became the second-brightest star in our sky when it erupted between 1838 and 1858, but it then faded from view. Modelling of events associated with the luminosity of Eta Carinae, based on visual estimates of its brightness, imply that the minimum temperature during this eruption was around 7,000 kelvin. However, spectra of light echoes from the Great Eruption, observed by Armin Rest and co-workers, differ from this model and instead predict effective temperatures of around 5,000 kelvin. From these findings the authors suggest that an energetic blast wave may have triggered and influenced the eruption.

The light echoes described by Rest and colleagues travelled away from the erupting star, then reflected back towards us off a cloud of dust and gas. The authors hope that future observations of light echoes might provide more information on the Eta Carinae eruption.


Armin Rest (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD, USA)
Tel: +1 410 338 4358; E-mail: [email protected]


[2] Biology: Advantage effects of prions in yeast (pp 363-368)

A screen of wild yeast strains reveals that many of them carry fungal prions. The results, reported in Nature this week, establish the biological importance of fungal prions, which are often considered to be rare laboratory diseases. Many of these natural prions are shown to bestow immediate beneficial effects on their hosts, and to facilitate evolutionary processes.

The idea that prions — proteins that can undergo conformational changes that are transmissible — may drive the evolution of new traits to promote survival in changing environments is highly controversial. Such prions had not been found in wild strains of yeast, leading to the assumption that fungal prions are either diseases of yeast or ’laboratory artefacts’. However, Susan Lindquist and colleagues report the discovery of two known prions in one third of nearly 700 strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae collected from the wild. They show that these prions can alter characteristics of their hosts; 40% of the traits produced by the prions are beneficial under selective environmental conditions or provide a basis for further, DNA-based traits to evolve.


Susan Lindquist (Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Please note this author is travelling and can be contacted via:

Audrey Mc Ardle (Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research)
Tel: +1 617 258 5814 or: +1 617 447 5861; E-mail: [email protected]


Comment: Regulate alcohol for global health (p. 302)

The World Health Organization (WHO) should create a legally binding treaty to reduce alcohol abuse, says Devi Sridhar in a Comment in Nature this week.

Almost 4% of all deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol — more than the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Alcohol consumption is the world’s third-largest risk factor for the loss of years to disease and disability, and in middle-income countries, which constitute almost half of the world’s population, it is the greatest risk. The WHO is the only global health body that can create legally binding conventions. Yet, surprisingly, in more than 60 years, the agency has produced only two major treaties — one requiring the tracking of disease outbreaks, and one against tobacco. “This is a major missed opportunity,” says Sridhar.

Sridhar argues that the WHO should turn its Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol, which is a set of policy recommendations, into a legally binding document. This would force nations to enact legislation, free up funds from the international community to address alcohol abuse and allow campaigning bodies to take governments to court for non-compliance. This should be accompanied, says Sridhar, by other moves to help the WHO to enforce its conventions, and to strengthen its ability to ensure that people in all countries are provided with a basic package of health services.

Devi Sridhar (University of Oxford, UK)

E-mail: [email protected]


[3] Oncology: Redefining childhood brain tumours (AOP; N&V)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10825

Genetic differences between medulloblastoma metastases and primary tumours are outlined in Nature this week. The findings indicate that metastases and primary tumours might respond differently to a specific treatment. Thus, targeted therapies need to be tailored according to the molecular alterations.

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant childhood brain tumour and is prone to metastases, which have been assumed to be biologically similar to the primary tumour. However, research in human medulloblastoma patients and a mouse model of the disease demonstrates that metastases vary genetically from the primary tumours. Characterizing genomic alteration and DNA methylation patterns, Michael Taylor and colleagues show that metastases in an individual are highly divergent from the primary tumours but similar to each other.

The authors caution that failure to account for the differences between metastatic and primary medulloblastoma could impede the development of effective targeted therapies. Selecting the appropriate treatment is critical, as primary tumours are more amenable to surgical control, whereas the metastases are the more frequent cause of death.

Michael Taylor (The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada)
Tel: +1 416 813 7564; E-mail: [email protected]

Steven Clifford (Newcastle University, UK) N&V author
Tel: +44 191 282 1326; E-mail: [email protected]


[4] Geoscience: Origin of Columbia River flood basalt volcanism (pp 386-389: N&V)

A model that may explain the underlying mantle processes that were responsible for generating the Steens–Columbia River flood basalt volcanism is reported in Nature this week. The proposed mechanism implicates the tearing of an ancient oceanic plate as the event that accounts for the complex present-day mantle structure of beneath western USA.

A flood basalt is the result of a large volcanic eruption that covers large areas with basalt lava and the origin of the Steens–Columbia River flood basalts is presumed to mark the onset of the Yellowstone volcanism. Lijun Liu and Dave Stegman use geodynamic modelling to show that a rupture occurred in the Farallon slab under eastern Oregon about 17 million years ago that allowed lava to flow through the tear. The pattern and timing of this tear is consistent with that of the Steens–Columbia River flood basalt event. The model also predicts the sequence of flood basalt composition, which the authors suggest may help settle controversies regarding the formation of these basalts and explain other processes associated with the Yellowstone volcanism.


Lijun Liu (University of California, San Diego, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 858 534 4643; E-mail: [email protected]

Cin-Ty Lee (Rice University, Houston, TX, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 713 348 508; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] & [6] & [7] Oncology: Understanding links between metabolism and cancer (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature10866

DOI: 10.1038/nature10860

DOI: 10.1038/nature10898

Three papers studying the role of specific mutations in brain cancers are published in Nature this week. The studies uncover a mechanistic framework for how mutations in the isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) genes may be involved in the development of cancers.

Isocitrate dehydrogenases (IDHs) are enzymes involved in chemical reactions that generate energy within cells. Mutations in IDH have been identified in several cancer types, including gliomas — cancers that originate in the glial cells in the brain. Timothy Chan and co-workers show that mutation of IDH1 promotes epigenetic changes to the DNA in glial cells, and these epigenetic alterations are the same as those found in a certain subclass of glioma. Their findings provide a possible pathway linking IDH mutations to the formation of tumours.

In a second study, Craig Thompson and colleagues find other epigenetic changes resulting from expression of mutant IDH enzymes. Mutant IDH produces the metabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG), which impairs demethylation of histones and prevents cells from differentiating normally, and thus could contribute to tumor development. William Kaelin and co-authors also investigate the role of 2HG in the development of cancer, which has previously been shown to inhibit the activity of several enzymes. However, Kaelin and colleagues find that another enzyme involved in the hypoxia pathway is activated by the (R)-enantiomer of 2HG, which they show to enhance cell proliferation.

Taken together, these studies imply that IDH mutations alter the activity of several cellular enzymes, leading to changes which may be important in the development of tumours.

Timothy Chan (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA) Author paper [5]
Tel: +1 646 888 2765; E-mail: [email protected]

Craig Thompson (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA) Author paper [6]
Tel: +1 646 888 3285; E-mail: [email protected]

William Kaelin Jr (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA) Author paper [7]
Tel: +1 617 632 3975; E-mail: [email protected]


[8] Ageing: Age-related disease pathways (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10810

The discovery of a role for a microRNA (miRNA) in the regulation of age-associated events and long-term brain integrity in fruitflies is reported in Nature this week. Activity of a highly conserved miRNA, miR-34, seems to suppress neurodegenerative disease and extend lifespan. The work provides a molecular link between ageing and neurodegeneration.

MicroRNAs are involved in gene regulation during development and have recently been linked with adult-onset, age-associated processes. Nancy Bonini and colleagues show that in Drosophila miR-34 expression is upregulated with adult age, and they identify factors required to promote some of the age-associated effects of miR-34. Loss of miR-34 seems to trigger accelerated brain ageing, late-onset brain degeneration, and reduces survival. Conversely, enhanced miR-34 expression mitigates age-related deficits and extends lifespan.

Taken together, the results establish a role for miRNA-dependent pathways in modulating processes that may have deleterious effects later in life.

Nancy Bonini (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 215 573 9267; E-mail: [email protected]


[9] And finally... Winds of change (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature10793

An explanation for recently detected radiation from the Crab pulsar — one of the brightest persistent gamma-ray sources in the sky — is proposed in Nature this week. The pulses of very high-energy gamma-ray emission are ascribed to a cold wind originating near to the site of emission.

Pulsars are neutron stars that are thought to eject electron–positron winds. Initially the winds are dominated by electromagnetic energy but as they move away from the pulsar their energy becomes more kinetic. Constraining where this acceleration takes place has been difficult, but Felix Aharonian and colleagues estimate the point where this transition occurs.

They suggest that the recent observations of pulsed, very high-energy gamma-ray emission from the Crab pulsar are produced by this accelerating wind.

Felix Aharonian (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Ireland)
Tel: +353 1662 1333 ext: 317; E-mail: [email protected]



[10] Eutrophication causes speciation reversal in whitefish adaptive radiations (pp 357-362; N&V)

[11] Magnetic reconnection from a multiscale instability cascade (pp 379-381)



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.

Calgary: 7
Halifax: 10
Hamilton: 1
Montreal: 3
Toronto: 3

La Serena: 1
San Pedro de Atacama: 1
Santiago: 1

Oulu: 7

Heidelberg: 3, 9

Dublin: 9

Kanagawa: 9

Amsterdam: 3

Moscow: 9

Stockholm: 8

Bern: 10
Kastanienbaum: 10

Cambridge: 3
Cardiff: 10
London: 1
Manchester: 3

Tucson: 1
Goleta: 1
Pasadena: 1, 11
San Diego: 4, 8
San Francisco: 3
Santa Barbara: 1
Stanford: 3
Atlanta: 3
Iowa City: 3
Baltimore: 1, 3
Chevy Chase: 7

Boston: 2, 7
Cambridge: 1, 2, 7
Minneapolis: 3
New Jersey
Princeton: 1
New York
New York: 2, 3, 5, 6
North Carolina
Durham: 7
Columbus: 3
Philadelphia: 5, 6, 8
Dallas: 2
Houston: 3, 7
Salt Lake City: 3, 7
Richmond: 3
Madison: 3



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: 16 Feb 2012

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