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This Week in PNAS: Nov 29, 2011

An international team led by investigators at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, this week reports its analysis of a microarray data set for 281 prostate cancers from a Swedish watchful-waiting cohort. The team classified patients based on their "mRNA microarray signature profiles indicating embryonic stem cell expression patterns, inactivation of the tumor suppressors p53 and PTEN, activation of several oncogenic pathways, and the TMPRSS2–ERG fusion." Overall, the team presents in PNAS an approach for the molecular classification of prostate cancers that is independent of Gleason score.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore and elsewhere show in the PNAS Early Edition that a "common oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphism and social support interact to reduce stress in humans." The international team presents evidence to suggest "that genetic variation of the oxytocin system modulates the effectiveness of positive social interaction as a protective buffer against a stressful experience."

The National Cancer Institute's Jung-Hyun Kim and his colleagues demonstrate the utility of a human artificial chromosome-based vector with a unique gene acceptor site for the "delivery of full-length genes and correction of genetic deficiencies in human cells." Kim et al. write in PNAS this week that their approach to the generation of human artificial chromosomes "should be suitable for studies of gene function and therapeutic applications."

Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco, and elsewhere this week report their use of engineered biomass-degrading, hydrocarbon-producing E. coli to produce three biofuels from switchgrass. The team says that "along with chromosomal integration of the biomass-consumption pathways," the engineering process they chose "should also improve the genetic stability of our modifications as well as their suitability for industrial-scale fermentations."

The Scan

White-Tailed Deer Harbor SARS-CoV-2 Variants No Longer Infecting Humans, Study Finds

A new study in PNAS has found that white-tailed deer could act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 variants no longer found among humans.

Study Points to Benefits of Local Consolidative Therapy, Targeted Treatments in Cancer Care

In JCO Precision Oncology, researchers report that local consolidative therapy combined with molecularly targeted treatments could improve survival for some lung cancer patients.

Genetic Variants That Lower LDL Cholesterol Linked to Reduced Heart Disease Risk

Rare variants in two genes that lower LDL cholesterol are also associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, according to a new JAMA Cardiology study.

Study Links Evolution of Longevity, Social Organization in Mammals

With the help of comparative phylogenetics and transcriptomics, researchers in Nature Communications see ties between lifespan and social organization in mammals.