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This Week in PLoS: May 7, 2012

In PLoS Genetics, an international team led by investigators at Georg-August-University Göttingen in Germany this week reports its use of whole-genome sequence data to predict quantitative trait phenotypes, like startle-induced locomotor behavior, in Drosophila melanogaster. Using the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel population of inbred lines, the team built a genomic relationship matrix from the SNP data it generated, which the team then used in a genomic best linear unbiased prediction model, or GBLUP. "We find that genomic prediction can be efficiently implemented using sequence data via GBLUP, there is little gain in predictive ability if the number of SNPs is increased above 150,000, and [that] neither implicit nor explicit marker selection substantially improves the predictive ability," the authors write.

Researchers at Germany's Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine and their colleagues show in PLoS Biology that recessive pathogenic mutations in the USH2A gene may influence touch acuity in "a proportion of a cohort of congenitally deaf young adults display significantly impaired measures of touch sensitivity compared to controls." Then, in a cohort of patients with Usher syndrome, a condition of deaf-blindness that is genetically well-characterized, the team found that "recessive pathogenic mutations in the USH2A gene influence touch acuity" whereas "control Usher syndrome cohorts lacking demonstrable pathogenic USH2A mutations showed no impairment in touch acuity."

In a related synopsis article, science writer Richard Robinson says that while "exactly how USH2A mutation affects either sense is unknown," usherin, the protein encoded by the gene, may provide a clue. "Usherin, is found at the base of the stereocilia, where it may serve to link other cellular proteins to the extracellular matrix, a function perhaps well-suited to transferring extracellular mechanical distortion into the cell, where it could help influence membrane depolarization," Robinson says, adding that "whatever the actual mechanism, the finding that it plays a role in touch will likely trigger important research into its precise function."

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.