Week in Review: December 29–January 2

Stem cell divisions and cancer risk; cleaning up mislabeled sequences; the history of H7N9

Tracy Vence
Jan 1, 2015

Cancer and chance

JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITYThe rate at which stem cells divide could help explain variability in cancer rates among adult tissues, researchers from Johns Hopkins University reported in Science this week (December 1). Overall, the team found, the greater the cumulative number of stem cell divisions in a tissue, the higher the cancer rate.

“The finding is remarkable,” Tom Hudson, president and scientific director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto, Canada, who was not involved in the work told The Scientist. “It is rather difficult to disagree that the correlation is very strong.”

Toward automating cleanup

FLICKR, KEVIN MACKENZIE, UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEENIt’s no surprise that errors exist in public databases like the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s GenBank. But what might come as a surprise is just how difficult identifying and cleaning up these mistakes can be. This week, The Scientist viewed the...

“Rather than the database looking at each record as it comes in at the back end, then having to get back to the submitter, if we get these consensus models ahead of time . . . ultimately, you can see how this would save us a lot of time,” said NCBI Director David Lipman.

How H9N2 led to H7N9

WIKIMEDIA, GAVIN SCHAEFERH7N9 avian influenza precursor H9N2 became significantly fitter as it circulated among chickens for years before it reassorted with H7 and N9 viruses, researchers from China Agricultural University and their colleagues reported in PNAS this week (December 29).

“[The] study reveals the increased H9N2 prevalence in poultry farms in China, due to the emergence of a more infectious and antigenically distinct H9N2 genotype,” Tommy Tsan-Yuk Lam of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health who was not involved in the study told The Scientist. “This might partly explain by H7N9 virus chose the N9N2 virus to reassort with.”

Other news in life science:

Bats the Source of Ebola?
The epidemic in West Africa may have been sparked by bats in Guinea, researchers propose, but concrete evidence of the route of zoonotic infection is lacking.

Contaminants Could’ve Accounted for STAP
Embryonic stem cells likely mucked up the cultures used in the debunked “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency” studies.

Toward Lab-Grown Gametes
From stem cells, scientists generate early egg- and sperm-like cells in vitro.

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