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This Week in Nature: Dec 19, 2013

In Nature this week, a team led by Max Planck Institute researchers report on the sequencing of the genome of a Neanderthal woman from Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. The DNA was obtained from a bone of an adult female who is thought to be about 50,000 years old. The scientists' analysis indicated that woman’s parents were closely related — possibly half-siblings or an uncle and niece — and that such mating among close relatives was not uncommon among her recent ancestors. Comparison of the genomic data with a low-coverage genome from a Neanderthal from the Caucasus region and with 25 present-day human genomes reveals several low-level gene-flow events among Neanderthals, Denisovans, and early modern humans, and suggest that several hominin groups frequently interbred during the Late Pleistocene, between about 12,000 years and 126,000 years ago.

Also in Nature, University of Pittsburgh researchers publish data showing that the deadly North American eastern equine encephalitis virus — an RNA virus spread by mosquitos — uses a microRNA to suppress viral replication inside host immune cells, thereby inhibiting immunity. The discovery gives clues as to why the virus is so lethal. "We propose that RNA viruses can adapt to use antiviral properties of vertebrate miRNAs to limit replication in particular cell types and that this restriction can lead to exacerbation of disease severity," the researchers add.

The Scan

UK Pilot Study Suggests Digital Pathway May Expand BRCA Testing in Breast Cancer

A randomized pilot study in the Journal of Medical Genetics points to similar outcomes for breast cancer patients receiving germline BRCA testing through fully digital or partially digital testing pathways.

Survey Sees Genetic Literacy on the Rise, Though Further Education Needed

Survey participants appear to have higher genetic familiarity, knowledge, and skills compared to 2013, though 'room for improvement' remains, an AJHG paper finds.

Study Reveals Molecular, Clinical Features in Colorectal Cancer Cases Involving Multiple Primary Tumors

Researchers compare mismatch repair, microsatellite instability, and tumor mutation burden patterns in synchronous multiple- or single primary colorectal cancers.

FarGen Phase One Sequences Exomes of Nearly 500 From Faroe Islands

The analysis in the European Journal of Human Genetics finds few rare variants and limited geographic structure among Faroese individuals.