In a paper published online in advance in Science this week, investigators in the European Molecular Biology Laboratory-Center for Genomic Regulation Systems Biology Unit show that in C. elegans, "the stimulation of a stress response can reduce mutation penetrance," and that this so-called mutation buffering "varies across isogenic individuals because of inter-individual differences in stress signaling." Altogether, the EMBL-CRG group says its study highlights "how transient environmental stimuli can induce protection against mutations, how environmental responses can underlie variable mutation buffering, and how a fitness trade-off may make variation in stress signaling advantageous."
Over in this week's issue, researchers at MIT and elsewhere present an approach to detect novel associations in large datasets. The team describes a maximal information coefficient, or MIC — a measure of dependence for two-variable relationships. "MIC belongs to a larger class of maximal information-based nonparametric exploration — MINE — statistics for identifying and classifying relationships," the authors write, adding that they applied both MIC and MINE approaches "to data sets in global health, gene expression, major-league baseball, and the human gut microbiota [to] identify known and novel relationships."
Elsewhere, the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine's Ewan St. John Smith and his colleagues report on "the molecular basis of acid insensitivity in the African naked mole-rat." The team describes a species-specific variant of NaV1.7 that it says was selected for, as it "tips the balance from proton-induced excitation to inhibition of action potential initiation to abolish acid nociception" in the mole rat.
Finally, Gerald Barnett reviews Sally Smith Hughes' book, Genentech: the Beginnings of Biotech, in this week's Science. In it, Hughes chronicles the firm's trajectory. "She presents a world in which scientists are hard-working, competitive, and naïve regarding business, law, and policy; scientific colleagues are antagonists, cutthroat competitors, or unaccountably generous; and business folks are fast-talking, smooth-tongued, demanding, and generally ignorant of science and technology," Barnett says.