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This Week in PNAS: Dec 3, 2013

In the early, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the US and Kenya outline their search for genes contributing to malaria parasite resistance in the African mosquito species Anopheles gambiae. By sequencing genes from five genomic region implicated in resistance based on genome block co-expression patterns, the team unearthed nearly 350 non-synonymous SNPs with potential ties to Plasmodium falciparum parasite susceptibility or resistance in mosquitoes from a malaria-prone part of Kenya. Variants in three mosquito genes stood out in particular for their apparent role in infection resistance, indicating that genes could be exploited in future malaria control efforts.

An international team led by investigators at the University of Colorado School of Medicine report on findings from a study of the Burmese python genome. Using Illumina and Roche 454 sequencing, the researchers sequenced and put together a 1.44 billion base genome assembly for the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus. Together with transcriptome sequence data from several Burmese python tissues before and after prey consumption, the genome made it possible to peek at expression changes accompanying peculiar Burmese python prey consumption traits such as feeding-related changes to organ sizes. By comparing Burmese python sequences to those of several other animals, meanwhile, the team tracked down sequence and genome structure shifts that contributing to other notable snake traits and adaptations.

In a related PNAS paper, a Leiden University-led group describes efforts to sequence and characterize genome of a venomous snake: the king cobra, Ophiophagus hannah. That team used an Illumina instrument to sequence the king cobra genome, along with microRNAs and transcripts from additional king cobra tissues, including the venom gland. In combination with proteomic profiles from king cobra venom, the DNA and RNA sequences helped researchers unravel the nature and origin of venom production in the snake. For instance, their findings unearthed differences between the snake's main and accessory venom gland and suggested that the king cobra's venom secretion system is related to pancreatic systems in other vertebrates.