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This Week in Nature: Mar 1, 2012

In a paper published online in advance in Nature this week, a team led by investigators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that "cognitive capacities in the neurodegenerating brain are constrained by an epigenetic blockade of gene transcription that is potentially reversible." The MIT-led team says that histone deacetylase 2 mediates this blockade, adding that it "associates with and reduces the histone acetylation of genes important for learning and memory, which show a concomitant decrease in expression." Overall, the team says its "findings advocate for the development of selective inhibitors of histone deacetylase 2 and suggest that cognitive capacities following neurodegeneration are not entirely lost, but merely impaired by this epigenetic blockade."

In time for Rare Disease Day, Trisha Gura this week profiles the staff and work of the Strasburg, Pa.-based Clinic for Special Children in a Nature feature. "At the clinic, two pediatricians, a molecular geneticist, and their staff have tools such as sequencers, microarrays and a LightScanner, which detects gene mutations," Gura says. "Using these tools, they nimbly stitch together the elements of basic science and clinical practice necessary to move from a blood sample to DNA analysis, all the way to diagnosis and treatment — sometimes in a matter of days." Plus, she adds, because of the "unusual community with which it works" — a primarily Amish and Mennonite population in Lancaster County — "it is probably the only medical center today with both a hitching post and an Ion Torrent DNA sequencer."

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Genya Dana and her colleagues this week propose "four steps to avoid a synthetic-biology disaster." Once released, "synthetic organisms cannot be retrieved," Dana et al. say. "It is imperative that funding and research communities take action to prevent future ecological disasters."

And over in Nature Genetics, the journal's editors discuss "not reinventing the wheel" when it comes to "identifying, collecting and evaluating disease-causing human gene variants" to use them in the clinical setting. "Despite increasing standardization of nomenclature and technology, our efforts still need coordination to produce a pipeline leading from discovery to delivery," the editors write.

The Scan

Renewed Gain-of-Function Worries

The New York Times writes that the pandemic is renewing concerns about gain-of-function research.

Who's Getting the Patents?

A trio of researchers has analyzed gender trends in biomedical patents issued between 1976 and 2010 in the US, New Scientist reports.

Other Uses

CBS Sunday Morning looks at how mRNA vaccine technology could be applied beyond SARS-CoV-2.

PLOS Papers Present Analysis of Cervicovaginal Microbiome, Glycosylation in Model Archaea, More

In PLOS this week: functional potential of the cervicovaginal microbiome, glycosylation patterns in model archaea, and more.