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This Week in Nature: Feb 13, 2009

Nature's got a load of stories on Darwin, in celebration of his 200th birthday today. One news feature explores how culture has influenced evolution and another looks for similarities behind the diversity of human nature. Commentaries discuss whether scientists should study race and IQ, while an essay wonders how things would be different had Darwin rewritten Origin of Species into a popular book about pigeons. A book review analyzes a new take on Darwin's biography, which incorporates his views on slavery, and another examines the poetry of his great-great-granddaughter, Ruth Padel.

A special insight section covers the science behind the man, exploring some new discoveries in evolution. "Given heritable variation, a superabundance of offspring, and environmental change, natural selection must happen, and evolution will follow," says an editorial. Several reviews take on the origin and evolution of arthropods, the origins of evolutionary novelty, selection during plant domestication, and more.

In early online publication, researchers have conducted a population genomics study of baker's yeast to see how environmental influences have affected the genetics of different strains. They used at least 4X coverage of more than 70 isolates of S. cerevisiae and its closest relative, Saccharomyces paradoxus, looking at differences in gene content, SNPs, indels, CNVs, and transposable elements. "Phenotypic variation broadly correlates with global genome-wide phylogenetic relationships," they find. Another study looked only at CNVs across strains of S. cerevisiae.

In a study led by Len Pennacchio at LBNL, researchers used ChIP-seq to predict the activity of enhancers in specific tissues. They used the enhancer-associated protein p300 to map several thousand in vivo binding sites in mouse embryonic forebrain, midbrain, and limb tissue. After, they tested 86 of these sequences in a transgenic mouse assay, and found that in mostly all cases, there was "reproducible enhancer activity" in the predicted tissues.

In work led by Evan Eichler, scientists compared genetic duplication among four primate genomes, macaque, orangutan, chimpanzee, and human, finding that on the ancestral branch leading to human and African great apes, there was a significant increase in duplication activity. "Evolutionary properties of copy-number mutation differ significantly from other forms of genetic mutation and, in contrast to the hominid slowdown of single-base-pair mutations, there has been a genomic burst of duplication activity at this period during human evolution," they write.

Filed under

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.