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This Week in Science: Sep 2, 2011

This week, Science captures "the allure of synthetic biology" in its special section on the field. "Biologists have been manipulating genomes ever since Paul Berg first described a method to covalently join duplex DNA molecules in 1972," the journal's Valda Vinson and Elizabeth Pennisi say. For this special issue of Science, Technische Universität Dresden's Petra Schwille addresses bottom-up synthetic biology, saying such engineering "requires tools that were originally designed by nature's greatest tinkerer: evolution."

Regarding policies that govern synthetic biology research, the Biotechnology Industry Organization's Brent Erickson, Rina Singh, and Paul Winters say that "regulatory options should support innovation and commercial development of new products while protecting the public from potential harms." As the authors say they view synthetic biology as but an "extension of the continuum of genetic science that has been used safely for more than 40 years by the biotechnology industry in the development of commercial products," they suggest "the regulatory framework that has been shaping continually evolving recombinant DNA technology for the past 40 years is generally applicable and relevant."

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere this week link "long-term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes" in a paper published online in advance in Science. Using diet inventories and 16S rDNA sequencing to analyzes fecal samples from 98 individuals, the team found that the "iecal communities clustered into enterotypes distinguished, primarily, by levels of Bacteroides and Prevotella," which were "strongly associated with long-term diets."

Finally, in response to a technical comment appearing in this week's issue, Josheph Tomkins et al. retract their paper "Additive genetic breeding values correlate with the load of partially deleterious mutations," published in Science in May 2010. In their retraction notice, the authors say that "there was an error in the methodology we developed to generate the null hypothesis," which, when corrected, show that "the magnitude of the reported negative correlation between breeding values and inbreeding depression was overestimated."

The Scan

More Boosters for US

Following US Food and Drug Administration authorization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the Washington Post writes.

From a Pig

A genetically modified pig kidney was transplanted into a human without triggering an immune response, Reuters reports.

For Privacy's Sake

Wired reports that more US states are passing genetic privacy laws.

Science Paper on How Poaching Drove Evolution in African Elephants

In Science this week: poaching has led to the rapid evolution of tuskless African elephants.