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This Week in Science: Jul 10, 2009

In Science this week, Jocelyn Kaiser interviewed biochemist Robert Tjian, who has been head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since April. He says his first plans were and still are to invest more in international research and educational programs, with an emphasis on Asia. In April, he announced a possible 5 percent budget reduction for "all-science programs." Says Tjian, "It's not that I looked at the books and said, 'Oh my God, we're running out of money.' It's more a way of planning ahead."

A news story focuses on gene conservation, function, and the changing link between the two, with more evidence suggesting that conserved genes are not always important and that important genes are not always conserved. Highlighted are the work of Eddy Rubin, Len Pennacchio, the University of Bath's Laurence Hurst, and the the Encyclopedia Of DNA Elements (ENCODE) consortium.

In a review article, University of Alberta scientists took a look at how the drug discovery process – which has historically been based on natural products derived from plants and other living organisms – is changing in the face of increasing numbers of synthetic compounds. "Untapped biological resources, 'smart screening' methods, robotic separation with structural analysis, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology offer exciting technologies for new natural product drug discovery," they write, made possible by advances in systems biology tools like high-throughput sequencing.

Researchers have found that domestic swine in the Philippines are host to the Reston ebolavirus (REBOV), which is a species of filovirus first identified in the 1970s in imported macaques. Assaying for many viruses and using comparative analysis, USDA scientists found that the associated REBOV strains are closely related to the macaque strain but more divergent from each other than from the original virus isolated in 1989. This suggests that "REBOV has been circulating since, and possibly before, the initial discovery of REBOV in monkeys."

The Scan

mRNA-Based Vaccine on the Way in China

China may soon have its own mRNA-based vaccine, according to Nature News.

Arranged Killing, Fraud Alleged by Prosecutors

The Wall Street Journal reports that prosecutors allege that the co-founder of a biotech arranged to have a business associate who threatened to expose him as a fraud killed.

Whirlwind Decade of CRISPR

The New York Times looks back at the 10 years since the University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues published their CRISPR paper.

PNAS Papers on Blue Cone Monochromacy Structural Variants, HIV-1 Mutant, T-ALL

In PNAS this week: structural variants linked to blue cone monochromacy, HIV-1 variants affecting the matrix protein p17, and more.