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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

Tens of Millions Saved

The Associated Press writes that vaccines against COVID-19 saved an estimated 20 million lives in their first year.

Supersized Bacterium

NPR reports that researchers have found and characterized a bacterium that is visible to the naked eye.

Also Subvariants

Moderna says its bivalent SARS-CoV-2 vaccine leads to a strong immune response against Omicron subvariants, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Science Papers Present Gene-Edited Mouse Models of Liver Cancer, Hürthle Cell Carcinoma Analysis

In Science this week: a collection of mouse models of primary liver cancer, and more.