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This Week in Science: Jul 31, 2009

At McMaster University, Emma Slack is first author on work this week in Science that looks at how the immune system adapts to our gut microbial community. Normally, the immune system doesn't recognize the trillions of bacteria in the gut due to compartmentalization. Her team found that even in the absence of Toll-like receptor signaling, which keeps the bacteria compartmentalized, mice still mounted an antibody response against the microbes, suggesting interplay between innate and adaptive immunity that keeps the system balanced.

UC Berkeley's Carlos Bustamente is lead author on work presenting a single-molecule technique to observe how a yeast RNA polymerase II ternary elongation complex interacts with a nucleosome when it's transcribing DNA. Using an optical tweezers assay, they were able to follow individual Pol II complexes and found that the polymerase, instead of actively removing the DNA, waits for it to fluctuate off the nucleosome. A perspective from Jason Otterstrom and Antoine van Oijen offers insight.

There's a news focus from Jeffrey Mervis on changing the graduate funding system. In the story, he explains that despite the fact that graduate students – and their advisors – are getting a great deal by being supported through research grants, Nobel Prize winner Roald Hoffmann says that a better approach would be for the government to use the money for competitive fellowships that students could use at any university they choose. Says Mervis, "That seemingly minor shift could have huge consequences for universities and for the entire US research enterprise."

Finally, there are two articles on computing and biology. One, penned by in part by UCSD's Pavel Pevzner, argues that advances in computing have changed the way biology is done so much that students need to be trained on the computational side in order to do biological research. In another, the authors report on the increased curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate level in computational biology and how the "NSF and the National Institutes of Health are funding development workshops and discussion forums for faculty, research-related experiences, and specialized research conferences in mathematical biology for students."

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.