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This Week in PLoS: Jan 20, 2009

Researchers led by Kári Stefánsson say that Icelandic mitochondrial DNA underwent rapid genetic drift in the last 1,100 years since the region was settled. The scientists compared mtDNA from 68 early medieval Icelandic skeletal remains to that from modern Icelanders as well as modern inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia. From this, they found that ancient Icelanders' mtDNA is more closely related to that of modern Scots, Irish, and Scandinavians than to that of modern Icelanders.

Northeastern University researchers have come up with a new computational methodology that predicts protein functional sites from that protein's three-dimensional structure. This approach, called Partial Order Optimum Likelihood, "identifies the active constraints and then simply combines the corresponding data values into 'pools' to be assigned probability estimates according to the proportion of positives in that pool," the researchers say in their PLoS Computational Biology article.

A group of scientists led by Takaaki Nakaya used 454 sequencing to detect viruses from nasopharyngeal and fecal samples taken during flu and norovirus outbreaks in Osaka, Japan. Sequencing the nasal swabs resulted in 20–460 flu reads and the fecal samples in 84–15,260 norovirus reads. "Although its cost and technological availability make it unlikely that this system will very soon be the diagnostic standard worldwide, this system could be useful for the earlier discovery of novel emerging viruses and bioterrorism, which are difficult to detect with conventional procedures," the authors write.

Joseph Madri and his colleagues used a proteomics-based approach to study congenital heart defects in mouse models. They exposed murine embryos to high glucose levels and, by mass spectrometry, identified proteins differentially expressed in embryos with defects. These proteins were then validated and found to be involved in adhesion and migration, differentiation, transportation, and insulin signaling pathways. The authors say that, eventually, the proteins could be used to identify fetuses at risk of congenital heart defects.

The Scan

Billions for Antivirals

The US is putting $3.2 billion toward a program to develop antivirals to treat COVID-19 in its early stages, the Wall Street Journal reports.

NFT of the Web

Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the World Wide Web, is auctioning its original source code as a non-fungible token, Reuters reports.

23andMe on the Nasdaq

23andMe's shares rose more than 20 percent following its merger with a special purpose acquisition company, as GenomeWeb has reported.

Science Papers Present GWAS of Brain Structure, System for Controlled Gene Transfer

In Science this week: genome-wide association study ties variants to white matter stricture in the brain, and more.