In a news story, Brendan Maher reports on the focus on exome sequencing at the Cold Spring Harbor Biology of Genomes meeting. According to Maher, the International Cancer Genome Consortium will focus on sequencing exomes, or just the 1 percent of the genome that is known to code for proteins. However, some say that this could turn out to be a "piecemeal half-step, and not provide a full picture of the mutations that lead to cancer," he writes.
In book reviews, Alexandra Worden & Darcy McRose take a look at Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, in which Stefan Helmreich writes about the otherness of the oceans. "Alien Ocean focuses on current research in marine microbiology and the social and political contexts in which it takes place, with a particular focus on metagenomics, the study of genetic material from uncultured microorganisms," they write.
An article in this week's Nature posits a way for RNA to have formed on prebiotic Earth. In their paper, the researchers show that activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides can be formed "in a short sequence that bypasses free ribose and the nucleobases, and instead proceeds through arabinose amino-oxazoline and anhydronucleoside intermediates." A news story says that by reviving the 'RNA first' model, this "provides a remarkably efficient solution to the problem of prebiotic ribonucleotide synthesis." The New York Times reports on it here.
An insight section takes a look at microbial oceanography, with several articles addressing the systems biology aspect of it. In one, Edward DeLong says that sequencing will provide a bigger picture of the "population dynamics, metabolic complexity, and synergistic interactions" of the ocean's microbes and its ecosystem, while Forest Rohwer and a colleague write about viruses, and how these invisible life forms affect their hosts.
Finally, scientists have discovered a new type of small interfering RNA called qiRNA, in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. These small RNAs, known as qiRNAs because of their interaction with QDE-2, are about 20–21 nucleotides long, they say, and are produced by DNA damage.