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This Week in Science: Jun 19, 2009

In Science's early online edition, Roland Riek from ETH Zürich led work that studied the role of functional amyloid proteins, more often associated with diseases like Alzheimer's. Scanning 42 peptide and protein hormones in vitro, they found that most could form amyloids. Subsequent biochemical analysis showed that peptide and protein hormones in secretory granules of the endocrine system are stored in an amyloid-like cross beta-sheet-rich conformation, they say in the abstract. "In contrast to the original association of amyloids with diseases, functional amyloids in the pituitary and other organs can contribute to normal cell and tissue physiology."

UT Austin's Kevin Liu is first author on a paper in this week's issue that uses a novel strategy to improve the "difficult, slow, and idiosyncratic" methods of building phylogenetic trees out of comparative sequence data. His approach, called SATé (simultaneous alignment and tree estimation), automatically estimates both DNA alignments and trees with the maximum likelihood criterion. They say it "improved tree and alignment accuracy compared to the best two-phase methods currently available for data sets of up to 1000 sequences, showing that coestimation can be both rapid and accurate in phylogenetic studies." A related perspective by European Bioinformatics Institute scientists goes into more detail.

In news, Jeffrey Mervis reports on a $1.5 million study from the Carnegie Corporation that summarizes the state of US science and math education. The study, Mervis writes, "calls for more rigorous math and science content, improved standards and assessment, better training for teachers, and more innovative schools," but in order to make those changes a reality, everyone, including politicians, teachers, and business folks, must get involved.

Two perspective pieces look to extremophile microbial communities as educational tools in the fight against climate change. In one, Antje Boetius and Samantha Joye of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and University of Georgia, respectively, talk about extremophiles living in the saltiest places on Earth, and how these communities are both surprisingly diverse and harbor many enzymes that could be especially useful to biotech. In another, the University of Tasmania's Johanna Laybourn-Parry writes about extremophiles living in the cold polar lakes and how they've both adapted to the conditions and to other microbes, such as viruses, living in these environments.

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.