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This Week in Nature: Jan 21, 2010

This week's print issue of Nature contains the giant panda sequencing paper by BGI-Shenzhen researcher Jun Wang and his team. The researchers sequenced the draft genome of a three-year-old giant panda named Jingjing, finding clues about the panda's preference for bamboo and its potential reliance on gut microbes for help digesting it. The Daily Scan reported on the online version of the paper last month.

Andy Futreal and his team published their kidney cancer sequencing paper, which appeared online earlier this month. The researchers sequenced 3,544 protein-coding genes in 101 clear cell renal cell carcinoma cases, demonstrating that, along with characteristic mutations affected the VHL gene, the cancer tends to carry mutations in genes coding for histone modifying enzymes. The study not only hints at a role for chromatin modifications in this cancer, they note, but also illustrates the heterogeneity existing within cancers.

Researchers from Columbia University and elsewhere report that they have used reverse engineering and glioma regulatory network information to pinpoint two transcription factors — STAT3 and C/EBPbeta — that act together to promote invasion by an aggressive brain cancer with a mesenchymal gene expression signature.

Finally, University of California researchers describe a feat that's being touted as a step forward for synthetic biology: the creation of colonies of synchronized bacterial genetic clocks. The team exploited a bacterial feature called quorum sensing to coerce Escherichia coli cells to keep time — switching fluorescent proteins on and off — in unison. "The synchronized genetic clock sets the stage for the use of microbes in the creation of a macroscopic biosensor with an oscillatory output," they write. For more information (and some cool fluorescent bacteria footage), check out a related video and news story from Nature News.

The Scan

Mosquitos Genetically Modified to Prevent Malaria Spread

A gene drive approach could be used to render mosquitos unable to spread malaria, researchers report in Science Advances.

Gut Microbiomes Allow Bears to Grow to Similar Sizes Despite Differing Diets

Researchers in Scientific Reports find that the makeup of brown bears' gut microbiomes allows them to reach similar sizes even when feasting on different foods.

Finding Safe Harbor in the Human Genome

In Genome Biology, researchers present a new approach to identify genomic safe harbors where transgenes can be expressed without affecting host cell function.

New Data Point to Nuanced Relationship Between Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder

Lund University researchers in JAMA Psychiatry uncover overlapping genetic liabilities for major depression and bipolar disorder.