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The Decline


One fear that many people have about growing older is a gradual decline of physical and cognitive function, so slow that it isn't quickly recognizable; perhaps you are just becoming forgetful, or delays in reaction time are simply a consequence of not being so young anymore. We see these changes occur in our grandparents and parents, hoping we might somehow be spared. We may; then again, we may not. Many neurodegenerative diseases are, at least in part, heritable. But some can also appear at random, subjecting us to the vagaries of chance. That's the uncertainty, the fear of the decline.

In this month's cover story, Tracy Vence focuses on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. This neurodegenerative disease is marked by muscle weakness due to motor neuron death. It is most often diagnosed in people over 50, but symptoms can appear earlier. Tracy reports on work into the gene-tic basis of both familial and sporadic ALS, though she notes that research into the latter form of the disease has been more difficult. However, researchers continue to link novel genetic variants to ALS and develop new models to study the disease's etiology and progression. High-throughput technologies like next-generation sequencing are propelling that work forward.

Elsewhere in this issue, Matthew Dublin looks at new ways researchers are making quantitative PCR even faster. By multiplexing reactions, scientists are gaining speed while using smaller amounts of their precious samples. Using a variety of techniques — including digital PCR, monochrome multiplex qPCR, and allele-specific methylated multiplex real-time qPCR — they also continue to achieve greater resolution. Despite that, Gregory Shipley at the University of Texas warns that researchers should look at all new methods with a touch of skepticism, as many techniques still need to prove their equivalence to single-plex approaches.

Finally, a correction: In the sidebar to last month's Brute Force column, the Java script for transcriptome reconstruction from RNA-seq reads is called Scripture, not Signature. Genome Technology regrets the error.

The Scan

Not Immediately Told

The US National Institutes of Health tells lawmakers that one of its grantees did not immediately report that it had developed a more infectious coronavirus, Science says.

Seems Effective in Kids

The Associated Press reports that the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for children appears to be highly effective at preventing symptomatic disease.

Intelligence Warning on Bioeconomy Threats

US intelligence warns over China's focus on technologies and data related to the bioeconomy, the New York Times reports.

PLOS Papers on Campylobacteriosis Sources, Inherited Retinal Dystrophies, Liver Cancer Prognosis

In PLOS this week: approach to uncover source of Campylobacteriosis, genetic risk factors for inherited retinal dystrophies, and more.