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This Week in PNAS: Aug 6, 2013

Along with economic hardships, a new study suggests the recent recession brought a rise in harsh parenting by mothers — particularly by those experiencing sharp macroeconomic shifts who also carried a specific version of the gene DRD2. As they report in the early, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, American researchers began exploring such gene-environment relationships using data for individuals from a longitudinal birth cohort representing almost 4,900 children born between 1998 and 2000. Based on mothers' DRD2 genotypes, socioeconomic factors, and other features, the study's authors determined that "mothers' responses to changes in economic conditions were moderated by their genetic profiles, such that mothers with the 'sensitive' genotype did worse than their counterparts in a deteriorating economy and better in an improving economy."

In an effort to assess a potential role for terminal differentiation-related genes in the process of gliomagenesis, MD Anderson Cancer Center's Ronald DePinho and colleagues sifted through data from the Cancer Genome Atlas, focusing on nervous system development genes showing recurrent copy number changes in glioblastoma. Using a soft agar growth assay and glioblastoma cell line, the team narrowed in from 71 such genes, ultimately showing that the neutralization of a terminal differentiation pathway containing the A2BP1 gene can contribute to glioblastoma tumorigenesis. "[I]n addition to the activation of self-renewal pathways," DePinho and co-authors conclude, "the neutralization of genetic programs that drive cells toward terminal differentiation may also promote immature and highly plastic developmental states that contribute to the aggressive malignant properties of [glioblastoma]."

Finally, Texas State University researchers took a population genomics-based look at genetic diversity, recombination, and admixture patterns in Poecilia formosa, a fish species capable of a type of asexual, but sperm-dependent, reproduction called gynogenesis. By sequencing more than 190 fish from the P. formosa species or from the related species P. mexicana and P. latipinna, the group found P. formosa genome features suggesting that the fish began as a hybrid between the P. mexicana and P. latipinna species. But the analysis also revealed fairly high genetic diversity in the unisexual fish, apparently stemming from processes such as mutation and recombination.