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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

Billions for Antivirals

The US is putting $3.2 billion toward a program to develop antivirals to treat COVID-19 in its early stages, the Wall Street Journal reports.

NFT of the Web

Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the World Wide Web, is auctioning its original source code as a non-fungible token, Reuters reports.

23andMe on the Nasdaq

23andMe's shares rose more than 20 percent following its merger with a special purpose acquisition company, as GenomeWeb has reported.

Science Papers Present GWAS of Brain Structure, System for Controlled Gene Transfer

In Science this week: genome-wide association study ties variants to white matter stricture in the brain, and more.