Week in Review: May 25–29

Genomic analysis and ancient human migration; lost Y chromosome genes found on autosomes; engineered microbes used to identify tumors

By | May 29, 2015

Route out of Africa

WIKIMEDIA, BAMSEAnalyzing 225 human genome sequences from individuals of African and non-African ethnicities, a team led by investigators at the University of Cambridge uncovered evidence in support of the theory that ancient humans migrated out of Africa moving north along the Nile through Egypt. The results were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics this week (May 27).

“This paper goes much further beyond any of the other prior genetic studies in really trying to address this question [of route],” said human evolutionary geneticist Brenna Henn of Stony Brook University in New York who was not involved in the work.

“ . . . They’ve made a good demonstration here that present day Egyptian samples look closest to the out-of-Africa [Eurasian] people of today compared with Ethiopian samples,” Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London who did not participate in the study told The Scientist.

Y chromosome genes move

WHITEHEAD INSTITUTE, JENNIFER HUGHESScientists have identified a variety of genes lost from the Y chromosome that have turned up on autosomes across eight mammalian species. In an analysis published in Genome Biology this week (May 28), the MIT-led team considered the possibility that these genes were transferred in relocation events.

“This is an interesting story. It’s remarkable to see how consistently genes that were lost from the Y chromosome were rescued by autosomal copies in multiple species,” said Christine Disteche, who studies the regulation of mammalian sex chromosomes at the University of Washington but was not involved in the current work. “What is amazing is that this seemed to have happened independently in multiple lineages. That stresses how important this is.”

Probiotic-based cancer diagnostic

CHRIS BICKELResearchers from MIT and the University of California, San Diego, have engineered commensal E. coli bacteria that, when administered orally in mice, glow in the presence of liver tumors. Their results were published in Science Translational Medicine this week (May 27).

“In some ways, [commensal bacteria] are a very natural delivery vehicle for agents for diagnosis,” said MIT’s Tal Danino, who led the work.

“This is a wonderful example of using synthetic biology for a medical goal,” said Neil Forbes, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the study.

Other news in life science:

A New Human Ancestor?
Researchers in Ethiopia unearth a previously unknown species of hominin, which roamed Africa at the same time as “Lucy.”

Viral Immunotherapy for Melanoma
Phase 3 data from a clinical trial show a positive response to a melanoma treatment based on a modified herpesvirus.

Ebola’s Cellular Key
Scientists studying the basic molecular steps of Ebola infection identify a mammalian protein that is essential for the pathogen to infect mice.

WHO OKs Plan to Fight Antibiotic Resistance
World Health Organization officials endorse a global strategy to combat the spread of antibiotic resistance.

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