Children bear the sins of the fathers

Children of older fathers have a higher rate of new mutations according to a large genome-sequencing study published in this week’s Nature. The effect is an increase of roughly two new mutations per year for every additional year of father’s age at conception.

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Genetics: Children bear the sins of the fathers

Climate science: Long-term decline of global atmospheric ethane

Genetics: Increasing rice yields

Comment: When international partnerships go wrong

Geoscience: Recalculating glacier mass change in the Himalayas

Microbiology: Antibiotics alter adiposity

Climate science: Antarctic Peninsula warming and natural variation

Neuroscience: Mutations in sodium channel linked with autism-related behaviour

Materials: Opportunities for novel organic electronic structures

· Geographical listing of authors

[1] Genetics: Children bear the sins of the fathers (pp 471-475; N&V)

Children of older fathers have a higher rate of new mutations according to a large genome-sequencing study published in this week’s Nature. The effect is an increase of roughly two new mutations per year for every additional year of father’s age at conception. These findings point to the risks of certain diseases in association with increasing father's age.

De novo mutations, which are not inherited from the parents, are important for evolution as they generate the diversity on which selection can act, but they also contribute to diseases. To understand better the rate with which de novo mutations arise at the genome-wide level, Augustine Kong and colleagues study mutation rates in 78 Icelandic parent–offspring trios. They show that the age of the father at conception is a dominant factor in determining the number of de novo mutations in the child, even after accounting for other contributing factors.

Epidemiological studies have linked the father’s age at conception to the risk of schizophrenia and autism, and other studies have linked de novo mutations with these diseases. Taken together with the latest results, the authors suggest that these findings emphasize the importance of a father’s age for the risk of their offspring developing schizophrenia and autism.

Augustine Kong (deCODE genetics, Reykjavik, Iceland)

Tel: +354 570 1931; E-mail: [email protected]

Alexey Kondrashov (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA) N&V author

Tel: +1 734 615 0493; E-mail: [email protected]


[2] Climate science: Long-term decline of global atmospheric ethane (pp 490-494)

Global emission rates for the greenhouse gas ethane decreased by 21% from 1984 to 2010, a report in this week’s Nature shows. The researchers attribute this decline to decreasing fugitive emissions — such as venting and flaring of natural gas from oil fields — from fossil-fuel sources of ethane. In addition, the findings suggest that reduced fugitive fossil-fuel emissions may also contribute to reductions in atmospheric methane, the second-most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

Ethane is the most abundant non-methane hydrocarbon in the remote atmosphere and is a precursor to tropospheric ozone. Because ethane’s major emission sources are shared with methane, the long-term ethane record collected by Isobel Simpson and colleagues can be used to investigate changes in global methane levels. The authors calculate that decreased fugitive emissions from fossil fuel (which exclude combustion) are responsible for at least 30% to 70% of methane’s slowing atmospheric growth since the mid-1980s. They encourage close scrutiny of ethane levels and corresponding methane growth rates in the future.

Isobel Simpson (University of California, Irvine, CA, USA)

Tel: +1 403 529 6089; E-mail: [email protected]


[3] Genetics: Increasing rice yields (pp 535-539; N&V)

A gene that can enhance rice yields in crops that normally rely on fertilizers containing phosphorus, an essential element for plant growth, is characterized in this week’s Nature. The gene makes crops tolerant to low concentrations of phosphorus, partly by enhancing root growth, which enables plants to acquire more phosphorus and other nutrients. Introduction of this gene into modern rice varieties is expected to enhance productivity under low-phosphorus conditions.

Rice is an important source of energy to many populations, such as in Asia, the world’s largest producer of rice. However, limited availability of phosphorus fertilizers contributes to low crop yields and high poverty in this region. Sigrid Heuer and co-authors suggest that a gene found in phosphorus-deficiency-tolerant rice in India, which is absent in other modern rice varieties, could address this problem. They show that grain yield can be increased in intolerant varieties by making them express the so-called phosphorus-starvation tolerance 1 (PSTOL1) gene.

The authors highlight the importance of exploring varieties of crops with valuable genes, such as PSTOL1, that could be used in breeding programs to improve plant yields.

Sigrid Heuer (International Rice Research Institute, Manila, Philippines)

Tel: +63 2580 5600 2761; E-mail: [email protected]

Leon Kochian (United States Department of Agriculture and Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA N&V author

Tel: +1 607 255 2454; E-mail: [email protected]


Comment: When international partnerships go wrong (pp 451–453)

The successful landing on Mars of the Curiosity rover this month belies the fact that the next generation of space missions is at risk. In a Comment piece in Nature this week, David Southwood, who recently stepped down as director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency (ESA), lays out lessons for future collaborations in space.

In the past year, dwindling budgets have caused the United States to withdraw from joint missions to Jupiter and Mars with ESA, leaving the Europeans to look to new partners that include Russia, China and India. Focusing on European–US cooperation on the Mars exploration mission ExoMars, the James Webb Space Telescope and a planned mission to Jupiter’s icy moons, Southwood relates how Europe has increasingly had to go it alone. He explains why international agreements rarely stand in the long term; why each partner’s motivation to join projects must be recognized; and why modular and flexible planning for missions is needed to assure their success when individual parts fail.

David Southwood (Imperial College London, UK)

E-mail: [email protected]

Please note this author is also travelling and can also be contacted via:

Colin Smith (Imperial College London press office)

Tel: +44 20 7594 6712 or: +44 7803 886248; E-mail: [email protected]


[4] Geoscience: Recalculating glacier mass change in the Himalayas (pp 495-498; N&V)

New estimates of glacier mass changes reported in this week’s Nature suggest that there has been a small amount of ice loss in the high mountains of Asia during the early twenty-first century. These results differ from results recently published by Thomas Jacob and colleagues in Nature, which suggested a mass balance indistinguishable from zero. The latest analysis relies on remote sensing with more spatial detail than the previous report.

Glacier changes over the high mountains of Asia can have knock-on effects on water resources and sea levels, but it has been difficult to accurately monitor ice-mass changes. Andreas Kääb and colleagues present a detailed analysis of the Hindu Kush—Karakoram—Himalaya region between 2003 and 2008 using satellite laser altimetry. They show that overall, glaciers in the area thinned by 0.2 metres per year. However, a larger mass loss in much of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas was balanced by near-zero mass loss in the Karakoram. The authors also note that debris cover does not seem to affect ice thinning, despite previous theories suggesting that debris may have an insulating effect.

The thinning of glaciers reported by Kääb and colleagues is greater than the estimates by Thomas Jacob and colleagues, and is more in line with previous estimates of ice loss.

Andreas Kääb (University of Oslo, Norway)

Tel: +47 2285 5812; E-mail: [email protected]

J. Graham Cogley (Trent University, Peterborough, Canada) N&V author

Tel: +1 705 748 1011 ext. 1039; E-mail: [email protected]


[5] Microbiology: Antibiotics alter adiposity (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature11400

Continuous treatment of young mice with antibiotics affects the microbial communities living within the mice and causes gains in fat mass, reports a study published in Nature this week. Although administration of low doses of antibiotics has been used to increase body weight in commercial livestock for decades, the mechanisms for this effect had been unclear. The results provide evidence that administration of antibiotics has substantial consequences on the metabolic capabilities of the gut microbiota.

Martin Blaser and colleagues observed the effects of exposing young mice to antibiotics, such as penicillin and vancomycin, at similar doses to those used in agriculture. Although the subtherapeutic doses delivered to mice do not result in the weight gain seen in farm animals, they do cause an increase in mouse fat mass. The authors show that antibiotics alter the composition of the gut microbiota, which in turn causes changes in metabolic activity, such as increased production of fatty acids. These findings highlight the important role certain microbes have in maintaining normal metabolic activity.

Martin Blaser (New York University, New York, NY, USA)

Tel: +1 212 263 6394; E-mail: [email protected]


[6] Climate science: Antarctic Peninsula warming and natural variation (AOP; N&V)

DOI: 10.1038/nature11391

Recent warming in the Antarctic Peninsula, currently one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, is unusual, but not unprecedented relative to natural variation, according to a report in Nature this week. Temperature estimates based on an ice-core record show that warming of the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula began around 600 years ago. However, the ice-shelf stability may be at risk if this region continues to warm.

Robert Mulvaney and colleagues present a deuterium-based record of Holocene (spanning from around 12,000 years ago to present) temperature variations at James Ross Island, off the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Deuterium is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen, which is found in water, and the ratio of these two variants in ice cores is related to temperature. The ice record indicates that after peak warmth in the early Holocene, temperatures were stable until about 2,500 years ago, when a sharp cooling took place. Although temperatures have risen by around 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past century, the authors note this increase is within the bounds of natural climate variability over the past 600 years.

The long-term climate history provided by the ice core confirms a close connection between past temperature and ice-shelf stability. The authors conclude that continuing warming may lead to destabilization of ice shelves southward along the peninsula.

Robert Mulvaney (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK)

Tel: +44 1223 221436; E-mail: [email protected]

Eric Steig (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA) N&V author

Tel: +1 206 685 3715; E-mail: [email protected]


[7] Neuroscience: Mutations in sodium channel linked with autism-related behaviour (AOP)

DOI: 10.1038/nature11356

Mice with only a single functional copy of the gene coding for a type of voltage-gated sodium channel display autism-related behaviours. These findings, reported this week in Nature, suggest that dysfunction of these sodium channels, which causes a form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet’s syndrome, is also responsible for autistic and cognitive behaviours often observed in patients, and point to potential therapeutic strategies.

Unlike other epilepsy disorders, Dravet’s syndrome is accompanied with autism-related behaviours including hyperactivity, impaired social interactions and repetitive behaviours. Although previous mice studies have shown that having only one functional copy of the SCN1A gene that codes for voltage-gated sodium channels causes the epileptic symptoms of Dravet’s syndrome, the neural mechanisms of the neuropsychiatric behaviours remained unclear.

William Catterall and colleagues show that mice with only one functional copy of SCN1A have autism-related behaviours, including impaired social behaviour. This mutation impairs GABA neurotransmission in the brain, and the authors attempted to narrow down the regions of the brain responsible for autism-related deficits by showing that deleting genes for voltage-gated sodium channels in forebrain interneurons was sufficient to cause the behavioural and cognitive impairments. When Catterall and colleagues treated the mice with clonazepam, a known positive modulator of GABA receptors, the mice were rescued of their abnormal social behaviour and cognitive deficits.

William Catterall (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA)

Tel: +1 206 543 1925; E-mail: [email protected]


[8] Materials: Opportunities for novel organic electronic structures (pp 485-489)

A method of producing organic ferroelectric materials that exhibit switchable electrical polarization is demonstrated in this week’s Nature. These properties are attractive for use in sensors and energy-efficient memories, and the new system is functional at room temperature, which has been a long-standing challenge in this field. The underlying molecular architecture of these materials could help guide the development of other functional organic systems that can switch under the influence of electric fields at ambient temperatures.

Organic ferroelectrics with switchable electrical polarization would be an attractive prospect for applications if the temperature below which their ferroelectric behaviour kicks in could be raised to room temperature or above. Samuel Stupp and colleagues have achieved this goal with a family of organic materials that self-assemble into ordered networks that possess ferroelectric properties at ambient temperatures. The underlying supramolecular network — or ‘motif’ — appears to be important for realising these properties, and the authors conclude that this motif offers a platform to design other novel organic electronic structures.

Samuel Stupp (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA)

Tel: +1 847 491 3002; E-mail: [email protected]


[9] Exciton condensation and perfect Coulomb drag (pp 481-484; N&V)

[10] Set2 methylation of histone H3 lysine36 suppresses histone exchange on transcribed genes

DOI: 10.1038/nature11326

[11] T cells become licensed in the lung to enter the central nervous system

DOI: 10.1038/nature11337



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.

Canberra: 6

Aarhus: 1

Grenoble: 6
Saint Martin d’Hères: 4
Toulouse: 4

Berlin: 11
Erlangen: 11
Göttingen: 11
Martinsried: 11
Munich: 11
Regensburg: 11

Reykjavik: 1

New Delhi: 10

Galway: 11

Milan: 3

Tsukuba: 3

Oslo: 4

Manila: 3

Daejeon: 8
Seoul: 7

Basel: 11

Cambridge: 6
Keyworth: 6
Little Chesterford: 1

Irvine: 2
Los Angeles: 8
Pasadena: 2, 9
San Francisco: 7
Boulder: 2
Argonne: 8
Chicago: 8
Evanston: 8
Rockville: 5
Kansas City: 10
New Jersey
Princeton: 9
New York
New York: 5
Seattle: 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

Eiji Matsuda, 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: 22 Aug 2012

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