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This Week in Cell: Sep 12, 2012

In the current issue of Cell, German researchers outline the strategy that they used to find hundreds of genes involved in hearing in fruit flies. By comparing gene expression patterns in sections of sound-sensing antenna in flies with or without an organ in that antenna that's needed to transmit sound, the team found 274 Drosophila genes contributing to auditory organ function. While four of these had been linked to hearing in the fruit fly model organism previously, they note, the rest are new. And, the researchers say, "one in five of the genes that we identified has a human cognate that is implicated in hearing disorders."

A team from Switzerland, France, and the US describes its systems-based look at metabolic homeostasis in mice in the early, online edition of Cell. For that study, investigators did a series of systematic experiments using a panel of mice from genetic reference population lines that share the same genetic background, but also have strain differences and variable metabolic traits. By mapping quantitative trait loci, or QTLs, as well as QTLs influencing gene expression, for instance, the researchers identified genetic modifiers related to 140 metabolism-related phenotypes that they were interested in. They also looked at how heritable these features were and the way they are affected by fruit fly sex. "The assembled and curated phenotypes provide key resources and exemplars that can be used to dissect complex metabolic traits and disorders," say the study's authors.

Also in the online version of the journal, researchers from the University of Washington and the Santa Fe Institute who are participating in the international Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, or ENCODE, project report on the transcription factor regulatory networks that they uncovered in 41 human cell and tissue types, including blood, cancer, and embryonic stem cells. By cutting DNA from active regulatory regions each genome with DNaseI and then sequencing these sites, the team traced the interconnections between 475 sequence-specific transcription factors — including some interactions that seem to be exclusive to certain cell types.