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From One Kind of Bug to Another

The coffee berry borer beetle destroys coffee crops — it lays its eggs inside the berries, and the larvae can eat through entire fields. But to digest the carbohydrate compounds that make up 60 percent of the berries, the beetles' ancestors stole a gene from the bacteria living in their guts, says Not Exactly Rocket Science's Ed Yong. In a new study published in PNAS, a team of researchers catalogued the genes in the beetle's gut and found that one of them, HhMAN1, creates a protein called mannanase that breaks down the galactomannan carbohydrate in coffee beans. The problem with that, Yong says, is that insects aren't supposed to have mannanases. "[Lead author Ricardo] Acuña found that the borer's gene was more closely related to similar genes in bacteria than to counterparts in plants, fungi, or animals," Yong adds.

Bacterial gene swapping isn't a new thing, he says, but it's much less common to see an exchange of genes among more complex organisms. And even then, it's rare for the swapped genes to have a specific purpose. This study, Yong says, "adds to this exclusive list" of genes that jumped from bacteria to a complex organism with "a clear purpose in its new body."

The Scan

Not as High as Hoped

The Associated Press says initial results from a trial of CureVac's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine suggests low effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.

Finding Freshwater DNA

A new research project plans to use eDNA sampling to analyze freshwater rivers across the world, the Guardian reports.

Rise in Payments

Kaiser Health News investigates the rise of payments made by medical device companies to surgeons that could be in violation of anti-kickback laws.

Nature Papers Present Ginkgo Biloba Genome Assembly, Collection of Polygenic Indexes, More

In Nature this week: a nearly complete Ginkgo biloba genome assembly, polygenic indexes for dozens of phenotypes, and more.