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Week in Review: September 2–6

More than 320,000 mammalian viruses lurk; evolution of echolocation in bats and dolphins; accumulation of mutations in drug-resistant tuberculosis; senior researchers reluctant to retire

By | September 6, 2013

Evaluating the viral threat

WIKIPEDIA, FRITZ GELLER-GRIMMA New York-based team is working to catalog all the world’s mammalian viruses in a proactive effort to prepare for their potential transmission to humans. “We need to know how many unknown viruses there are to understand how much of a threat there is,” study coauthor Peter Daszak from the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance told The Scientist.

The team first counted all the viruses in the Indian flying fox, then extrapolated that result to include all mammals, estimating that the animals harbor at least 320,000 viruses, collectively. Columbia University’s Simon Anthony noted that if his group’s rough estimate holds true, researchers “could feasibly find most of the viruses that exist in mammals in the next 20 years.”

Stanford University’s Nathan Wolfe, who was not involved in the study, said that the research was “very timely, and representative of a new generation of work.”

Convergent evolution of echolocation

GARETH JONESWhile bats and dolphins each evolved echolocation systems independently, researchers have uncovered additional evidence of evolutionary convergence across the animals’ genomes. Queen Mary University of London’s Joe Parker and his colleagues scanned the genomes of bats and dolphins in search of genes expressing sequence convergence, finding nearly 200 of them.

An evolutionary biologist who was not involved in the work said she was surprised by the degree of convergence the researchers found. “This is a great example of how taking a genomic approach really can tell you a lot about . . . how organisms adapt in general, and how big a proportion of the genes can be affected by an individual’s environment and their adaptation to it,” said Judith Mank from University College London.

The mutations behind TB drug resistance

WIKIMEDIA, NIAIDThe more researchers learn about the molecular mechanisms behind drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), the more they realize they still don’t understand. That’s the main message out of a series of papers published this week. Characterizing resistance-associated mutations in more than 500 Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates from around the world, researchers from China, Spain, and the United States attempted to crack the genomic complexity of drug-resistant TB.

Tawanda Gumbo from UT Southwestern Medical Center, who was not involved in the work, said that these reports “demonstrate there is a lot more involved in drug resistance.”

“There is a growing recognition that the targets of drugs are not confined to [what] we thought of in the past,” he added. “Resistance is not confined to one or two genes—[it is] a system-wide response by the pathogen.”

Delaying retirement

FLICKR, EASYLOCUMWhile he noted that many “continue to contribute to their fields well into their so-called retirement years,” Brad Fenwick this week argued that senior researchers who are delaying their departures from academia are keeping young scientists from breaking into it. “What happens . . . to the 20-somethings looking for those elusive research positions and coming up short-changed because of reluctance by senior faculty and administrators to hang up their lab coats?” he asked.

Fenwick pointed out that many senior researchers are reluctant to retire because of financial challenges. To that, he said, academic institutions ought to “come up with creative ways to bolster pension funds in order to provide incentives to would-be retirees.” Of course, their salaries aren’t the only reason scientists wish to stay in the lab—the social and professional benefits of an academic career also compel senior researchers to put their retirement plans on proverbial sabbatical.

Other news in life science:

Sequester Hitting Scientists Hard
A recent survey of working researchers highlights funding difficulties and the perceived decline of the U.S. as a leader in science. 

Skin-Eating Fungus Threatens Salamanders
A fungus that erodes the skin has caused massive die-offs of fire salamanders in the Netherlands.

Plant Data, for a Price
An online repository of botanical data previously funded by the National Science Foundation is forced to collect user fees for the first time in its 14-year existence.

Video Game Boosts Multitasking Skills
Training for several hours with a racing video game improves the multitasking abilities of 60- to 85-year-olds for up to six months.

Fly-Wrangling and Undesirable Snacks
A humorous Twitter hashtag helps paint a picture of what science initiation rituals might look like.

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Avatar of: karen64

karen64

Posts: 1

September 29, 2013

We all must stay abreat of these facts!

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