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This Week in Nature: Aug 28, 2008

Researchers at Harvard have reprogrammed differentiated pancreatic exocrine cells in adult mice into cells that closely resemble beta-cells. Using a combination of three transcription factors, Ngn3, Pdx1, and Mafa, their work raises "the possibility that a patient's healthy cells might be transformed into the type lost to a disease far more simply and cheaply than in the cumbersome proposals involving stem cells," according to this story in the New York Times.

A news and views article checks in on synthetic biology, looking at two papers that examine how yeast reacts to environmental changes by watching its response to different input signals. In a study in this issue, scientists used microfluidics and fluorescent reporter proteins to watch how transcription of the yeast's galactose-utilization genes responds to slight changes in glucose levels.

A news feature asks how much noncoding RNA (thought to comprise 90 percent of the genome) might be functional. In 2008, researchers used Illumina sequencing to show that 74 percent of the genome of S. cerevisiae and 90 percent from S. pombe was transcribed. The next step is figuring out, what, if anything, all this noncoding RNA does. "What is needed, researchers say, is more data to show that RNAs do something useful on the genomic scale — but those data are proving remarkably difficult to collect."

A letter from Ian Brooks at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Postdoctoral Association wonders about an eventual glut of postdocs, and says that it's about time for US academia to review its training system. "Are we training too many students? And what should we do with all the postdocs? A major overhaul of the academic training pathway for life-scientists is long overdue," he writes.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.