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This Week in PLoS: Mar 10, 2009

In PLoS Biology this week, researchers study canalization, or the reduction in phenotypic variation, in developing Drosophila embryos. They used a predictive dynamical model of gene regulation to study the effect of variation of the maternal protein, Bicoid, on downstream gap genes, showing that canalization results from specific interactions among these genes. In embryos mutant for two gap genes, Krüppel and knirps, variation is increased.

A paper in PLoS Computational Biology looks at Alu exonization events and how the splicing machinery can distinguish between Alu genes used in exon splicing and those not. By comparing the two groups of genes, they found several features that were different, the most novel being secondary structure. Alu exons, they say, show decreased stability of local secondary structures. "Our findings reveal insights regarding the role of local RNA secondary structures, exon-intron architecture constraints, and splicing regulatory signals," they write in the author summary.

To study the evolution of biological pathways, researchers developed an algorithm that allowed them to reconstruct a history of evolution among the metabolic pathways of 160 prokaryotes. They found there was rapid evolution due to bidirectional horizontal gene transfers of groups of genes. In addition, "the emergence of novel pathways was suggested to have occurred more contemporaneously than expected across different phylogenetic clades," they say in the author summary in PLoS Genetics.

A paper in PLoS One from George Mason University scientists describes a technique for improved biomarker detection in the blood. Using platelet derived growth factor as a model, they show that core-shell hydrogel nanoparticles can both sequester the marker from its carrier protein, albumin, and protect it from digestion while making it detectable by both ELISA and mass spec. They think the particles can be used to routinely detect low concentration and easily degraded blood biomarkers.

The Scan

Not as High as Hoped

The Associated Press says initial results from a trial of CureVac's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine suggests low effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.

Finding Freshwater DNA

A new research project plans to use eDNA sampling to analyze freshwater rivers across the world, the Guardian reports.

Rise in Payments

Kaiser Health News investigates the rise of payments made by medical device companies to surgeons that could be in violation of anti-kickback laws.

Nature Papers Present Ginkgo Biloba Genome Assembly, Collection of Polygenic Indexes, More

In Nature this week: a nearly complete Ginkgo biloba genome assembly, polygenic indexes for dozens of phenotypes, and more.