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This Week in PNAS: Dec 8, 2009

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, Yale University scientists have developed a cheap, microfluidic platform that uses biocompatible ferrofluids "for the controlled manipulation and rapid separation of both microparticles and live cells." Using microspheres, they achieved 99 percent separation efficiency based on size at less than 10-micron resolution, demonstrating the platform's potential in "significantly reducing incubation times and increasing diagnostic sensitivity in cellular assays through rapid separation and delivery of target cells to sensor arrays."

Using an lipidomics approach, Japanese researchers report that microsomal PGE synthase 1 (mPGES-1) plays a key role in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). The arachidonic acid cascade creates eicosanoids, such as prostaglandins, and blocking the pathway upstream with various drugs leads to detrimental side effects. Further work using mice knockouts and IHC in EAE mice and patients with MS showed expression of the mPGES-1 protein in macrophages, revealing possible "implications fro the design of therapies for MS."

The University of Washington's Alan Rubin and Phil Green have penned an article on mutation patterns in cancer genomes. Looking at patterns of nucleotide substitution in several cancer types using published data, they found that selection has affected only a small fraction of mutations, CpG mutations happen mostly outside of CpG islands, substitution asymmetry suggests that mutations might be affected by gene expression, and that "mutations at dinucleotide 'hotspots' can be used as a tool to detect likely technical artifacts in large-scale studies."

Led by Jing Huang at the University of California, Los Angeles, scientists have developed a method to identify targets of small molecule drugs that "takes advantage of a reduction in the protease susceptibility of the target protein upon drug binding." Called drug affinity responsive target stability, or DARTS, the method is "universally applicable," and they use it to show drug-protein interactions of resveratrol. "We envisage that DARTS will also be useful in global mapping of protein–metabolite interaction networks," among other things, they say.

The Scan

Renewed Gain-of-Function Worries

The New York Times writes that the pandemic is renewing concerns about gain-of-function research.

Who's Getting the Patents?

A trio of researchers has analyzed gender trends in biomedical patents issued between 1976 and 2010 in the US, New Scientist reports.

Other Uses

CBS Sunday Morning looks at how mRNA vaccine technology could be applied beyond SARS-CoV-2.

PLOS Papers Present Analysis of Cervicovaginal Microbiome, Glycosylation in Model Archaea, More

In PLOS this week: functional potential of the cervicovaginal microbiome, glycosylation patterns in model archaea, and more.