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This Week in PLOS: Dec 3, 2012

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Marcello Mannino and colleagues from Italy, Spain, and Canada have sequenced mitochondrial DNA from ancient remains found on Italy's Favignana island. The work was done as part of the team's effort to characterize the origins and diets of prehistoric hunter-gatherers that once lived in the Sicily and nearby parts of the Mediterranean Basin. As they report in PLOS One, investigators used hyper-variable region I sequence data to determine that one of the Holocene hunter-gatherers buried at a site called Grotta d'Oriente was part of the HV-1 mitochondrial haplogroup. Based on that data, study authors speculate that the early Holocene inhabitants of Sicily region may have moved into the area from the Italian peninsula. Meanwhile, their isotope and other analyses indicate that these ancient Mediterranean settlers were slow to shift from a subsistence-based diet to one that included more seafood.

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and Baylor College of Medicine describe the RNA interference screen they used to track down potential drug targets in Huntington's disease. By individually dialing back levels of almost 7,500 proteins across the genome using RNAi assays in mammalian cell lines, the group reasoned that they might find circumstances in which mutant huntingtin protein was less toxic than usual. Indeed, the screen uncovered numerous potential modifiers of this mutant huntingtin effect. Chief among them were proteins in the RRAS signaling pathway — findings supported by the team's mouse and fruit fly models of Huntington's disease. Our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News has more on the study.

A PLOS Pathogens study supports the notion that the bovine tuberculosis-causing pathogen Mycobacterium bovis, can hop back and forth between cattle and badgers. A UK team performed whole-genome sequencing on M. bovis strains isolated from four badgers and more than two dozen cows in Northern Ireland over about a decade. Although all of the isolates had the same variable number tandem repeat, or VNTR, type, investigators were able to refine relationships between them using SNP information gleaned from the genome sequences. The M. bovis strains found in the cattle and badgers were decidedly similar, they report, pointing to recent transmissions between the hosts. The direction of specific transmission events remains unclear, though the study's authors note that "more extensive sampling and analysis will allow for quantification of the extent and direction of transmission between cattle and badgers."

The Scan

Pfizer-BioNTech Seek Full Vaccine Approval

According to the New York Times, Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking full US Food and Drug Administration approval for their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Viral Integration Study Critiqued

Science writes that a paper reporting that SARS-CoV-2 can occasionally integrate into the host genome is drawing criticism.

Giraffe Species Debate

The Scientist reports that a new analysis aiming to end the discussion of how many giraffe species there are has only continued it.

Science Papers Examine Factors Shaping SARS-CoV-2 Spread, Give Insight Into Bacterial Evolution

In Science this week: genomic analysis points to role of human behavior in SARS-CoV-2 spread, and more.