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This Week in Science : Nov 18, 2011

Researchers at Germany's Institut für Allgemeine Pharmakologie und Toxikologie show in Science Signaling this week that "signaling by the matrix proteoglycan decorin controls inflammation and cancer through PDCD4 and microRNA-21." The team shows that, "by stimulating pro-inflammatory PDCD4 and decreasing the abundance of miR-21, decorin signaling boosts inflammatory activity in sepsis and suppresses tumor growth."

In Science this week, a team led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital reports its determination of the crystal structure of "the yeast Sir3 BAH (bromo-associated homology) domain and the nucleosome core particle at 3.0 angstrom resolution." With this, the team observed "multiple molecular interactions between the protein surfaces of the nucleosome and the BAH domain that explain numerous genetic mutations." Overall, the authors say their study "explains how covalent modifications on H4K16 and H3K79 regulate formation of a silencing complex that contains the nucleosome as a central component."

Elsewhere in this week's issue, readers discuss race disparity in NIH grants. Responding to the August report "Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards," in which Donna Ginther and her colleagues showed that "Asians are 4 percentage points and black or African-American applicants are 13 percentage points less likely to receive NIH investigator-initiated research funding compared with whites."

In a letter to Science, Duke University's Harold Erickson this week says the study was flawed in that the researchers looked at two groups of investigators -- those with fewer than 84 citations, and those with more than 84 citations. "This range does not seem relevant to competitive scientists. A meaningful cutoff for a typical assistant professor, approaching tenure and the renewal of his first grant, would be closer to 1,000 citations, not 84," he says. To this, Ginther et al. respond saying their "data included about 300 early-career individuals … that had [around] 1,000 citations. However, these are the top 1 percent of individuals with citations in the data."

The Boston Biomedical Research Institute's James Sherley points to barriers at an investigator's home institution as a key indicator of his or her NIH grant success. To this, Sherley says "Director [Francis] Collins must be prepared to extend NIH policies to providing better oversight of the manner in which minority investigators are treated in their home institutions." In response, Collins and Lawrence Tabak agree with Sherley, saying he raises an important point. "NIH recognizes a unique and compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences workforce," Collins and Tabak say. "Therefore, NIH requires recruitment plans to enhance diversity, including underrepresented minorities, for institutional training grants at the pre- and postdoctoral levels."

The Scan

Fertility Fraud Found

Consumer genetic testing has uncovered cases of fertility fraud that are leading to lawsuits, according to USA Today.

Ties Between Vigorous Exercise, ALS in Genetically At-Risk People

Regular strenuous exercise could contribute to motor neuron disease development among those already at genetic risk, Sky News reports.

Test Warning

The Guardian writes that the US regulators have warned against using a rapid COVID-19 test that is a key part of mass testing in the UK.

Science Papers Examine Feedback Mechanism Affecting Xist, Continuous Health Monitoring for Precision Medicine

In Science this week: analysis of cis confinement of the X-inactive specific transcript, and more.