From lunar lanscapes to a light-switch that turns off pain

Latest news from Nature journals 20 February 2012

This press release contains:

---Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Methods: A light-switch to turn off pain

Geoscience: Recently active lunar landscapes

Nature: Regulating energy balance

Geoscience: Fuelling glaciers

And finally…Nanotechnology: The smallest ever transistor

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

---Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Methods: A light-switch to turn off pain
DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1897

A molecule that can be turned on or off to block the activity of pain-sensing neurons in rats is reported online this week in Nature Methods. These findings have potential value as both scientific and clinical tools for controlling pain sensation.

Local anesthetics suppress pain sensation by blocking the activity of pain-sensing neurons, but most of these compounds act nonselectively on all nervous-system cells. Some compounds act preferentially on pain-sensing neurons, but their actions persist for many hours.

To develop a molecule that can block the activity of pain-sensing neurons in a controlled and reversible manner, Richard H. Kramer and Dirk Trauner synthesized a molecule, named QAQ, that is structurally similar to a previously used lidocaine derivate. It uses the same mechanism to selectively enter pain-sensing neurons, but its activity can be controlled by light. QAQ switches between two conformations in response to different colors of light, and only one of them has a pain-suppressing effect—ultraviolet light turns it on and green light turns it off. The authors show the capacity of QAQ as a light-sensitive analgesic in the retina of living rats.

Author contacts:

Richard H. Kramer (University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 510 643 2406; E-mail: [email protected]

Dirk Trauner (University of Munich, Germany)
Tel: +49 89 2180 77800; E-mail: [email protected]


[2] Geoscience: Recently active lunar landscapes

DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1387

The Moon could have experienced very recent tectonic activity, within the last 50 million years, reports a study published online this week in Nature Geoscience. Previously, the youngest tectonic features, much less than a billion years old, were thought to be formed by recent shrinking of the Moon as its interior cooled.

Thomas Watters and colleagues analysed images obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. They identified narrow trough-like features in the lunar highlands and mare basalts that are thought to have formed as the lunar crust was stretched and extended. The features appear pristine and are rarely cross-cut by impact craters implying they formed relatively recently.

Thermal models of lunar evolution suggest that the surface of the Moon should currently be under compression. However, the faults identified here are indications of the extension of the Moon’s surface, and imply that the Moon may not have totally melted after its formation.

Author contact:

Thomas Watters (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA)
Tel: +1 202 633 2483; E-mail: [email protected]


[3] Nature: Regulating energy balance

DOI: 10.1038/nature10798

Insights into the molecular mechanisms by which a high-fat diet may contribute to early-onset obesity are presented in Nature this week. A role of the lipid-sensing protein GPR120 in controlling energy balance in humans and mice is uncovered.

GPR120 is a receptor for free fatty acids and is involved in homeostasis mechanisms such as fat-cell generation and the regulation of appetite or food preference. Gozoh Tsujimoto and colleagues show that mice lacking GPR120 develop obesity, glucose intolerance and fatty liver when fed a high-fat diet. These findings indicate that GPR120 dysfunction in mice could be the underlying mechanism for diet-associated obesity and obesity-related metabolic disorders.

In humans, the authors show that expression of GPR120 is elevated in the fat tissues of obese individuals. GPR120 exon sequencing revealed a mutation that inhibits GPR120 signalling activity and is associated with an increased risk for obesity in Europeans.

Author contact:

Gozoh Tsujimoto (Kyoto University Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Japan)
Tel: +81 75 753 452; E-mail: [email protected]


[4] Geoscience: Fuelling glaciers
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1403

Aerosols derived from the combustion of fossil fuels supply organic matter to Alaskan glaciers, reports a study published online in Nature Geoscience this week. The findings suggest that human activities may affect organic matter in glaciers.

During periods of ice melt, glacier meltwaters run into rivers and coastal waters, where they fuel biological activity. Aron Stubbins and colleagues examined the age and composition of organic matter in glacier surface waters and glacier outflow in Alaska. They detected large quantities of old, yet biologically available organic matter, and show that aerosols, rich in fossil fuel combustion products, are the most likely source of this material. As such, the researchers suggest that human activities have amplified the export of organic matter from glaciers.

Author contact:

Aron Stubbins (Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Savannah, GA, USA)
Tel: +1 912 598 2320; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] And finally…Nanotechnology: The smallest ever transistor
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2012.21

A single-atom transistor created by very accurately positioning a phosphorus atom on a silicon surface is reported in a paper published online this week in Nature Nanotechnology. The work represents the smallest transistor created to date.

The phosphorus atom sits between source and drain electrodes, which are less than 20 nanometres apart, and also between two gate electrodes, which are just over 100 nanometres apart. Michelle Simmons and co-workers applied a voltage across the source and drain electrodes, and another voltage across the gate electrodes, and measured the current through the phosphorous atom. They found that the current depends on the voltages in a way that is characteristic of a field-effect transistor.

To make the smallest ever transistor the team developed a technique that allowed them to replace one silicon atom in a group of six with a phosphorous atom. This corresponds to an accuracy of better than half a nanometre. Despite the advances noted in this study, a number of challenges need to be overcome before single-atom transistors are ready to feature as everyday devices.

Author contact:

Michelle Simmons (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Tel: +61 2 9385 6313; E-mail: [email protected]


Items from other Nature journals to be published online at the same time and with the same embargo:

Nature (

[6] The role of Drosophila Piezo in mechanical nociception
DOI: 10.1038/nature10801

[7] Piezo proteins are pore-forming subunits of mechanically activated channels
DOI: 10.1038/nature10812

[8] Stability criteria for complex ecosystems
DOI: 10.1038/nature10832

[9] Opposite effects of fear conditioning and extinction on dendritic spine remodelling
DOI: 10.1038/nature10792

[10] Repetitive motor learning induces coordinated formation of clustered dendritic spines in vivo
DOI: 10.1038/nature10844


[11] Family-wide chemical profiling and structural analysis of PARP and tankyrase inhibitors
DOI: 10.1038/nbt.2121


[12] A genome-wide homologous recombination screen identifies the RNA-binding protein RBMX as a component of the DNA-damage response
DOI: 10.1038/ncb2426

[13] Phosphoinositide-mediated clathrin adaptor progression at the trans-Golgi network
DOI: 10.1038/ncb2427

[14] Stromal control of cystine metabolism promotes cancer cell survival in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
DOI: 10.1038/ncb2432

[15] Inferring rules of lineage commitment in haematopoiesis
DOI: 10.1038/ncb2442

[16] Flippase-mediated phospholipid asymmetry promotes fast Cdc42 recycling in dynamic maintenance of cell polarity
DOI: 10.1038/ncb2444


[17] Inhibition of mycolic acid transport across the mycobacterium tuberculosis plasma membrane
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.794

[18] Structure basis of transfer between lipoproteins by cholesteryl ester transfer protein
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.796

[19] Highly specific, bi-substrate-competitive Src inhibitors from DNA-templated macrocycles
DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.792


[20] Chemically homogeneous and thermally reversible oxidation of epitaxial graphene
DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1269

[21] Imparting functionality to a metal–organic framework material by controlled nanoparticle encapsulation
DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1272


[22] Vulnerability of coastal aquifers to groundwater use and climate change
DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1413

[23] Climate-induced range contraction drives genetic erosion in an alpine mammal
DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1415

[24] The Alberta oil sands and climate
DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1421


[25] Common variants at CDKAL1 and KLF9 are associated with body mass index in east Asian populations
DOI: 10.1038/ng.1086

[26] Meta-analysis identifies common variants associated with body mass index in east Asians
DOI: 10.1038/ng.1087

[27] Periodic stripe formation by a Turing mechanism operating at growth zones in the mammalian palate
DOI: 10.1038/ng.1090

[28] Estimating the proportion of variation in susceptibility to schizophrenia captured by common SNPs
DOI: 10.1038/ng.1108


[29] Neutral buoyancy of titanium-rich melts in the deep lunar interior
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1402

[30] Geomagnetic field variability during the Cretaceous normal superchron
DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1404


[31] The earliest thymic T cell progenitors sustain B cell and myeloid lineage potential
DOI: 10.1038/ni.2255


[32] New magnetic phase diagram of (Sr,Ca)2RuO4
DOI: 10.1038/nmat3236

[33] Controlling the Curie temperature in (Ga,Mn)As through location of the Fermi level within the impurity band
DOI: 10.1038/nmat3250

[34] Josephson supercurrent through a topological insulator surface state
DOI: 10.1038/nmat3255


[35] Activation of fast skeletal muscle troponin as a potential therapeutic approach for treating neuromuscular diseases
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2618

[36] USP15 stabilizes TGF-beta receptor I and promotes oncogenesis through the activation of TGF-beta signaling in glioblastoma
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2619

[37] Blockade of PDGFR-beta activation eliminates morphine analgesic tolerance
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2633

[38] A quantitative basis for antiretroviral therapy for HIV-1 infection
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2649

[39] Wnt5a-Ror2 signaling between osteoblast-lineage cells and osteoclast precursors enhances osteoclastogenesis
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2653

[40] Insulin regulates liver metabolism in vivo in the absence of hepatic Akt and Foxo1
DOI: 10.1038/nm.2686


[41] A bioinformatics method identifies prominent off-targeted transcripts in RNAi screens
DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1898


[42] Quantitative super-resolution imaging uncovers reactivity patterns on single nanocatalysts
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2012.18

[43] Controllable bidirectional molecular motors made from myosin
DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2012.19

Nature PHYSICS (

[44] Probing the relaxation towards equilibrium in an isolated strongly correlated one-dimensional
Bose gas
DOI: 10.1038/nphys2232

[45] Emergent electrodynamics of skyrmions in a chiral magnet
DOI: 10.1038/nphys2231


[46] The Elongator subcomplex Elp456 is a hexameric RecA-like ATPase
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2234

[47] Structural basis for the assembly and nucleic acid binding of the TREX-2 transcription-export complex
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2235

[48] Balanced interactions of calcineurin with AKAP79 regulate Ca2+–calcineurin–NFAT signaling
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2238

[49] The structural basis of transferrin sequestration by transferrin-binding protein B
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2251

[50] Methylation of H4 lysines 5, 8 and 12 by yeast Set5 calibrates chromatin stress responses
DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2252



The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. 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.

Brisbane: 28, 44
Fitzroy: 39
Melbourne: 18, 26, 28
Parkville: 5
Sydney: 5, 18
Wollongong: 34

Antwerp: 3

Calgary: 47
Chalk River: 32
Edmonton: 23
Hamilton: 3
Montreal: 20, 22
Saskatchewan: 22
Toronto: 11, 47
Vancouver: 32, 33
Victoria: 24

Beijing: 26
Jiangxi: 14
Nanning: 26
Shanghai: 26
Xi’an: 18
Xuzhou: 26

Oulu: 3

Bordeaux: 1
Dijon: 3
Grenoble: 29
Illkirch: 46
Lille: 3
Orsay: 3, 31
Paris: 3, 29, 30
Strasbourg: 46
Toulouse: 3
Villejuif: 3, 31
Villeurbanne: 29

Berlin: 44
Cologne: 45
Garching: 44, 45
Heidelberg: 46, 49
Julich: 44
Leipzig: 3
Mainz: 44
Munich: 1, 44
Potsdam: 44

Thessaloniki: 3

Beer-Sheva: 30

Monterotondo: 31
Perugia: 11
Rome: 3
Verona: 3

Chiba: 20, 32
Fukuoka: 26
Hyogo: 39
Ibaraki: 32
Kiryu-City: 20
Kyoto: 3, 32
Nagano: 39
Nagoya: 26
Osaka: 32
Suita: 26, 27
Tochigi: 3
Tokyo: 25, 26, 39, 40
Toon: 26
Wako: 20
Yokohama: 25, 26

Amsterdam: 29, 36
Enschede: 34
Leiden: 34
Nijmegen: 34

Singapore: 21, 25, 26

Bratislava: 17

Cheongwon-gun: 26
Chuncheon: 26
Chungcheonuk-do: 25
Daejeon: 5

Barcelona: 36
Cerdanyola del Valles: 36

Gothenburg: 27
Lund: 15, 31
Stockholm: 11
Uppsala: 11

Bern: 3

Taichung: 25, 26
Taipei: 25, 26

Pathum-thani: 14

Cambridge: 49
Edinburgh: 29, 31
London: 3, 15, 25, 26, 27, 31
Oxford: 15, 31

Juneau: 4
Tempe: 2
Berkeley: 1, 18, 23, 33
Davis: 4, 17
Foster City: 41
La Jolla: 6, 7, 48
Los Angeles: 13, 26
San Diego: 6
San Francisco: 26, 35
Santa Cruz: 10
Stanford: 43, 50
Aurora: 48
Boulder: 4, 28
Fort Collins: 17
Groton: 18
New Haven: 4
District of Columbia
Washington: 2
Gainesville: 21
Savannah: 4
Honolulu: 26
Chicago: 8
Evanston: 20, 21
Bloomington: 20
Notre Dame: 33
West Lafayette: 5
New Orleans: 26
Baltimore: 38
Laurel: 2
Boston: 12, 25, 26, 28, 36, 40, 41, 48
Cambridge: 19
Falmouth: 4
Ann Arbor: 35
Kansas City: 16
New Hampshire
Hanover: 41
New Jersey
Princeton: 50
New York
Ithaca: 42
New York: 9, 12, 19, 32
North Carolina
Chapel Hill: 28, 36
Durham: 7
Winston-Salem: 26
Columbus: 14
Philadelphia: 40
Memphis: 17
Nashville: 25, 26
Oak Ridge: 20
Houston: 14, 18, 37
Norfolk: 4



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Published: 19 Feb 2012

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