Week in Review: March 3–7

The gene behind a butterfly’s mimicry; the evolution of adipose fins; bacteria and bowel cancer; plants lacking plastid genomes

By | March 7, 2014

One gene behind butterfly’s mimicry

WIKIPEDIA, MUHAMMAD MAHDI KARIMA single gene underlies the mimetic capabilities of some female Common Mormon butterflies, an international team has found. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Krushnamegh Kunte and his colleagues published their results in Nature this week (March 5).

Once thought to have been controlled by a set of inherited genes working in tandem, it turns out that doublesex alone is responsible for mimicry in the Common Mormon, which can look like the more colorful and toxic swallowtail butterfly. “Finding a single gene was a surprise,” Kunte told The Scientist. “That it’s such a well-characterized gene with a completely different function is totally mind-boggling.”

A purpose for adipose fins?

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO MEDICAL CENTER, DAN KITCHENSAdipose fins, which were long considered vestigial, appear to have evolved more than once and within diverse fish lineages, researchers reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B this week (March 5). As a result of their comparative phylogenetic analysis, Thomas Stewart from the University of Chicago and his colleagues proposed that further study of these structures could help resolve the evolution of other appendages.

“They have good evidence here that the adipose fin may be a good model for understanding the origins of limbs and fins,” said Peter Wainwright, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the research.

Microbe-dependent cancer development

WIKIMEDIA, CDCCertain bowel tumors can develop differently depending on the composition of the gut microbiome, according to a mouse study led by investigators at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Their work was published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine this week (March 3).

“There’s a growing body of information that constituents in the microbiota play a role in chronic inflammation and in cancer development,” said Martin Blaser from the New York University School of Medicine, who did not participate in the study.

Plants lacking plastid genomes

WIKIPEDIA, MA_SUSKATwo teams working independently recently identified plants—Rafflesia lagascae and Polytomella—that appear to lack plastid genomes, which contain the instructions to build crucial organelles such as cholorplasts. But the findings have yet to be confirmed.

“Showing convincingly that something does not exist is always a challenge in science,” said Kirsten Krause from The Arctic University of Norway, who was not involved in the studies. “The authors of both publications were wise to leave a back door open by indicating that plastid genome loss is a possible conclusion of their findings. . . . I am, nevertheless, convinced that that the publications will ignite a new wave of scientific dispute and, hopefully, of research in this field.”

Other news in life science:

Proposed NSF, NIH Budgets Flat
President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget maintains funding for many science agencies, much to the disappointment of advocates who had hoped for increases.

Ancient Giant Virus Discovered
A new species of giant virus discovered in the Siberian permafrost, where it’s been buried for 30,000 years, is reincarnated in the lab.

Collaboration Bias?
Study finds that male full professors are more likely than high-ranking female academics to collaborate with more junior colleagues of the same sex.

U.K. To Legalize Three-Parent IVF?
Regulators in England near the approval of a new mitochondrial replacement technique for creating embryos with less risk of developing certain heritable diseases.

Crop Coalescence
While national food supplies have diversified during the last 50 years, the global crop selection has homogenized, new analysis shows.

News of interest elsewhere:

The team behind the so-called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) stem cells, a technique other groups have had trouble reproducing, this week released a more-detailed protocol, Nature reported.  According to Nature, “the authors admit that the procedure is more complicated than originally advertised.”

Two papers published in Cell Stem Cell this week (March 6) reported the reprogramming of human fibroblasts into functional hepatocytes or hepatocyte-like cells. Last month (February 23), another team reported having differentiated human hepatocytes from fibroblasts using a modified technique that bypasses pluripotency

The two-year US National Science Foundation (NSF)/BIO-UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Lead Agency Pilot Opportunity launched this week (March 4). “This pilot opportunity will use a simplified, flexible review process that will allow US/UK research teams to submit a single proposal that will undergo a single review process by only one of the partner agencies,” the NSF said. Both the U.S.- and U.K.-based agencies will fund successful proposals.

The New York Times covered advances in CRISPR/Cas this week (March 3). (See “A CRISPR Fore-Cas-t” in this month’s issue of The Scientist.)

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