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This Week in Science: Dec 10, 2010

Researchers at the Chinese University in Hong Kong show that the "entire fetal and maternal genomes [are] present in maternal plasma at a constant relative proportion," which they determined by sequencing a maternal plasma sample at up to 65-fold coverage. In this week's Science Translational Medicine, the Chinese University team reports its determination of the genome-wide mutational status of a fetus from this sequence data as well as "information about the paternal genotype and maternal haplotype." The authors suggest that their work demonstrates "the feasibility of using genome-wide scanning to diagnose fetal genetic disorders prenatally in a non-invasive way."

In a paper published online in advance in Science this week, Columbia University's Baris Tursun et al. show that C. elegans germ cells can be reprogrammed into specific neuron types through the ectopic expression of a single transcription factor. By removing the histone chaperone LIN-53/RbAp48, the team found it could convert germ cells into terminally differentiated glutamatergic, cholinergic, or GABAergic neurons.

In this week's issue of Science, researchers in the UK and Japan discuss "sex determination in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum." The team has found that "three forms of a single genetic locus specify this species' three mating types," and that "single, unrelated genes are sufficient to determine two of the mating types," while the other appears to be determined by homologs of both. In addition, the team reports, these two key genes "encode polypeptides that possess no recognizable similarity to established protein families."

A set of papers that appear in this week's Science examine genome evolution in plant pathogens. Researchers in Germany report on deteminants of pathogenicity in smut fungi, which they've determined through comparative genomics analyses. An international research team re-sequenced six potato species and report that "genome evolution following host jumps in the Irish potato famine pathogen lineage." A large, international research collaboration describe "signatures of adaptation to obligate biotrophy in the Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis genome," which the authors say have implications for crop production. European researchers show that "genome expansion and gene loss in powdery mildew fungi reveal tradeoffs in extreme parasitism." Our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News has more on these papers, here.

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.