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This Week in Nature: Mar 7, 2013

In Nature this week, a team from Wageningen University reports on the identification of a gene that regulates the initiation of tuber development and plant maturity in potatoes. The plant originated in the Andes and evolved short day-dependent tuber formation as a propagation strategy. In more northern latitudes such as the US and Europe, potatoes needed to adapt to being grown in long-day conditions. The researchers identified a gene responsible for early tuberization in such an environment and suggest that the trait helped form the basis for the plant's domestication in northern countries.

Meanwhile, in Nature Genetics, researchers from the University of Michigan describe newly identified genetic variants associated with age-related macular degeneration. They conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies for the disease, including over 17,000 individuals with advanced AMD and 60,000 healthy controls. They found seven genomic regions newly associated with AMD risk and 19 associated regions overall, providing "new directions for biological, genetic and therapeutic studies of AMD."

Our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News has more on this report here.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.