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This Week in Science: Aug 6, 2010

In Science this week, Yale University's Celina Juliano and Brown University's Gary Wessel discuss the versatility of germline genes in some less well-studied animal species. "Traditionally classified 'germline genes' may have a broader role in development than originally anticipated," Juliano and Wessel write, adding that "in some taxa, germline genes appear to specify a multipotent cell lineage during embryogenesis, the fates of which include both somatic cells and the germ line." In reviewing the literature, the authors suggest that the germline molecular program may have originated in multipotent cells, "and was subsequently co-opted by more specialized, embryonic germ cells," though further investigations are required to support this hypothesis.

In a perspectives piece in this week's issue of Science, Lawrence Wilkinson at Cardiff University describes the implications of two studies that examine parent-of-origin allelic expression in the mouse brain, published online in advance in July. "In both studies, [Christoper] Gregg et al. used a combination of 'new generation' sequencing methods for high-resolution screening of the transcriptome ... in mouse brain tissue, and a model that allowed them to identify whether gene expression was from the male or female parental allele," Wilkinson writes, adding that the take-home message of both studies is that "parental bias in gene expression constitutes a major component of epigenetic regulation in the mammalian brain."

Writing in response to an editorial on helping young scientists that was published in Science in April, Eleftherios Diamandis at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto suggests that the reason young scientists are underrepresented in societal awards is because they "haven't yet produced high-impact work or that their recent discoveries need time to mature and make an impact." Diamandias opines that "academies for young scientists," as proposed by the authors of the April editorial, "are not only unnecessary, but may damage the careers of highly promising young scientists." Diamandias suggests that most senior scientists "have a genuine interest in promoting the careers of younger scientists and not ... in grabbing their resources or stealing their societal recognition."

In a reply to Diamandis' letter, the authors of original editorial suggest that "his message — focus on science — runs contrary to the interests of young scientists and the broader scientific community," and add that "of greater concern are more mundane forms of recognition, such as societal leaders understanding and emphasizing the importance of young scientists for the well-being of the country, as well as academic freedom, independence, job security, and decent pay for talented young researchers." In upholding their proposition of a Young Academies movement, Tilman Brück and colleagues write that "involving young scientists early in their career will help improve science's impact on society."

Science is polling its readers on this, asking "how much time should the next generation of young scientists devote to nonresearch activities?" Readers are asked to cast their votes, here.

The Scan

Octopus Brain Complexity Linked to MicroRNA Expansions

Investigators saw microRNA gene expansions coinciding with complex brains when they analyzed certain cephalopod transcriptomes, as they report in Science Advances.

Study Tracks Outcomes in Children Born to Zika Virus-Infected Mothers

By following pregnancy outcomes for women with RT-PCR-confirmed Zika virus infections, researchers saw in Lancet Regional Health congenital abnormalities in roughly one-third of live-born children.

Team Presents Benchmark Study of RNA Classification Tools

With more than 135 transcriptomic datasets, researchers tested two dozen coding and non-coding RNA classification tools, establishing a set of potentially misclassified transcripts, as they report in Nucleic Acids Research.

Breast Cancer Risk Related to Pathogenic BRCA1 Mutation May Be Modified by Repeats

Several variable number tandem repeats appear to impact breast cancer risk and age at diagnosis in almost 350 individuals carrying a risky Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA1 founder mutation.