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This Week in Cell: Apr 11, 2012

In a paper published online in advance in Cell, a team led by investigators at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney shows that haploinsufficiency of Notch signaling pathway genes can cause congenital scoliosis in humans. In a mouse model, the team also shows that "the combination of this genetic risk factor with an environmental condition (short-term gestational hypoxia) significantly increases the penetrance and severity of vertebral defects" associated with congenital scoliosis. "Our results potentially provide a mechanism for the genesis of a host of common sporadic congenital abnormalities through gene-environment interaction," the authors write.

Over in Cell Reports, Columbia University's Marios Agelopoulos, Daniel McKay, and Richard Mann "present a strategy to examine the chromatin conformation of individual loci in specific cell types during Drosophila embryogenesis." Using that approach, they found a pattern of binding by GAGA factor and the variant histone H2Av, which suggests that they "play a role in the regulation of Dll chromatin conformation in expressing and non-expressing cell types, respectively."

Elsewhere in the journal, researchers at Japan's Kyushu University and their colleagues report on their work with IRF8-deficient mice, which showed them that "IRF8 may activate a program of gene expression that transforms microglia into a reactive phenotype." Overall, the authors suggest their mouse model findings provide a previously unseen mechanism for microglial activation.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.