11 December 1997
News and Views
Quantum teleportation is a way of transferring the state of one particle to a second using 'entanglement' -- a mysterious connection between separated objects. This technique has only existed as a thought experiment for the past five years, but now quantum teleportation has been achieved in the laboratory. One group have succeeded in teleporting photons; another group have teleported photons' polarization states.
The fastest way from A to B
Nature 390, 551-552 (1997)
LEARNING AND MEMORY
Hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP) has long been suspected to be involved in learning and memory, but definitive proof has been hard to come by. Two groups now report, however, that fear conditioning (which is a form of pavlovian conditioning) causes an increase in the strength of synapses in a region of the brain that is associated with learning and memory. Animals were trained to associate a tone with a foot shock, eliciting a response of 'fear'. After training, this response occurred when the tone was given but the foot shock was not.
Robert C. Malenka and Roger A. Nicoll
Never fear, LTP is hear
Nature 390, 552-553 (1997)
The latest genome to be sequenced is that of the parasite responsible for Lyme disease -- Borrelia burgdorferi. Why should this sequence be of interest? First, because Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia, so the more we know about the parasite that causes it, the closer we should be to possible treatments. Second, because this is the first spirochaete genome to be sequenced, and the first prokaryotic genome to contain several genetic elements.
Alan G. Barbour and Wolfram R. Zückert
New tricks of tick-borne pathogen
Nature 390, 553-555 (1997)
Eta Carinae is a spectacular star. With a mass perhaps 100 times that of the Sun, it is very luminous, and barely stable. Even though it is 8,000 light years away, it became one of the brightest stars in the sky during an outburst about 150 years ago. Periodic but intensifying emission of X-rays from the star probably herald another outburst in January (although it is unlikely to be as violent). Observations of the coming outburst should, however, help us to determine whether Eta Carinae is a binary, and what causes it to emit X-rays.
Clocks within the hourglass
Nature 390, 555-556 (1997)
Different species of a genus of starfish found on Australia's temperate east coast vary widely in their mode of reproduction. Some produce tiny eggs that develop into free-swimming larvae before becoming tiny, bottom-dwelling starfish; others have larger eggs that develop directly into starfish. Some have brood care; others cast their eggs into the sea. A study of some of these starfish, and members of a closely related genus, involved constructing a phylogeny based on mitochondrial DNA sequences, and tracing on it the different reproductive modes. The upshot gives a snapshot of how development is moulded by evolution, in the form of a kind of Hertzsprung-Russell diagram for biological stars.
Stephen R. Palumbi
A star is born
Nature 390, 556-557 (1997)
Why is the combination of aspirin and opioids more analgesic than the summed effect of each drug given separately? The answer lies in the specific inhibition of neurotransmitter release by non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory analgesics. Activation of the µ-opioid receptor leads to the production of arachidonic acid, which can be metabolized through three enzymatic pathways, leading to the release of neurotransmitter. But researchers now have found that two of the pathways can be blocked by analgesics, so neurotransmitter release (and 'painful' signals) are inhibited.
John T. Williams
The painless synergism of aspirin and opium
Nature 390, 557-559 (1997)
Because nearly half of the world's population may lose some or all ability to hear by the age of 80, finding out why this occurs is a priority. The latest findings are the isolation of two genes which, when mutated, both cause hearing problems. The first encodes a protein called diaphanous, which is involved in functioning of sensory hair cells in the cochlea. The second encodes a putative sulphate transporter protein -- pendrin -- that is mutated in patients with a hearing disorder called Pendred syndrome. Defects in pendrin affect the growth and development of the cochlea.
Karen B. Avraham
Sounds from the cochlea
Nature 390, 559-560 (1997)
An increasing problem in cancer chemotherapy is multiple drug resistance. To fight it, medicinal chemists are continually on the lookout for new cytotoxic compounds, and from natural products they have isolated several that each promote the formation of stable bundles of microtubules, and so inhibit cell division. The newest member of this family is eleutherobin, whose isolation was announced in September. Astonishingly, that has already been followed by the compound's total synthesis.
Ringing the changes
Nature 390, 560-561 (1997)
The puritan conscience holds that pleasure is sinful and should be followed by, and maybe even preceded by, pain. Daedalus is now inventing a drug appropriate for this stern view -- it is an alcohol which gives you a hangover first. The chemistry is decidedly tricky, but the delayed rewards offered by the resulting 'Pain and Pleasure Pill' would have decidedly interesting applications.
Payment in advance
Nature 390, 561 (1997)
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