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This Week in Nature: Nov 12, 2009

In work appearing in this week's issue of Nature, scientists have found even more evidence for a gene in humans linked to language. Already known to be a 'language gene,' the human FOXP2 (forkhead box P2) protein has two amino acids that are different from the chimp version. To see whether these changes make a functional difference, scientists led by Daniel Geschwind at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that when the chimp version of the gene was put into human neurons in vitro, the transcriptional activity of at least 116 other genes was affected. “The human FOXP2 seems to be acting on a more refined set of genes,” Geschwind says in this story in the NYT. A News and Views article adds insight.

Two papers in this week's issue highlight work in the area of drug target binding. In one, led by Brian Shoichet at the University of California, San Francisco, and Bryan Roth at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, scientists screened over 3,500 FDA-approved and investigational drugs against hundreds of targets, predicting thousands of unanticipated associations, they say. "The interactions of drugs with off-target proteins have conventionally been viewed as undesirable 'promiscuity', responsible for unwanted side effects. But in many cases — ranging from certain older psychiatric drugs to modern anticancer therapies — this promiscuity is intrinsic to the drug's therapeutic efficacy," says Andrew Hopkins in a News and Views article. In other work led by Harvard University scientists, they designed stabilized alpha-helical peptides that target "a critical protein-protein interface in the NOTCH transactivation complex," says the abstract. Because the Notch signaling pathway plays a role in several diseases, says a related News and Views, "'undruggable' biological targets" might benefit.

Asha Gopinathan reviews Beyond the Boys' Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male-dominated Field by Suzanne Doyle-Morris. Doyle-Morris, an executive coach who works with companies to recruit women employees, says that while an old system that expects women to take care of domestic chores plays a large part in slowing them down professionally, networking and self-promotion go hand-in-hand with success. "[The book] offers tips on how to raise your profile, build your image, network within and outside the organization, take appropriate risks, negotiate office politics, and choose a mentor or coach," writes Gopinathan.

Finally, over at Omics! Omics!, Keith Robison points out a review article in this month's Nature Biotechnology that delves into the challenges of sequencing-by-synthesis technology, including "sample preparation, surface chemistry, fluorescent labels, optimizing the enzyme-substrate system, optics, instrumentation, understanding tradeoffs of throughput versus accuracy, and read-length/phasing limitations," says the abstract. Robison says that it's noteworthy that "an explicit goal of the paper is to summarize the problem areas so that new minds can approach the problem," he writes.

The Scan

Guidelines for Ancient DNA Work

More than two dozen researchers have developed new ethical guidelines for conducting ancient DNA research, which they present in Nature.

And Cleared

A UK regulator has cleared former UK Prime Minister David Cameron in concerns he should have registered as a consultant-lobbyist for his work with Illumina, according to the Financial Times.

Suit Over Allegations

The Boston Globe reports that David Sabatini, who was placed on leave from MIT after allegations of sexual harassment, is suing his accuser, the Whitehead Institute, and the institute's director.

Nature Papers on Esophageal Cancer, Origin of Modern Horses, Exome Sequencing of UK Biobank Participants

In Nature this week: genetic and environmental influences of esophageal cancer, domestic horse origin traced to Western Eurasian steppes, and more.