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This Week in Science : Feb 10, 2012

In a policy paper published online in advance this week, Johns Hopkins' Ruth Faden and Ruth Karron discuss the recent debates over H5N1 experiments — in which the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommendeds that research done by two separate groups be redacted — and say that they "highlight current shortcomings in oversight of potential dual-use research." Faden and Karron say that the "specific and immediate question posed by the H5N1 studies is how to ensure appropriate access to the details of a study when a determination has been made by NSABB that these details should not appear in the public scientific literature so as to protect against misuse," and add that ethics cannot and does not demand the impossible. No matter the measures set in place, "scientists cannot ensure or guarantee that their work will never be applied intentionally or accidentally to harm society," the authors write in Science.

Members of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's Structural Biology Program this week present the "crystal structure of a productive covalent mouse DNMT1-DNA complex containing a central hemimethylated CpG site," which they say provides further insight into "how a combination of active and autoinhibitory mechanisms ensures the high fidelity of DNMT1-mediated maintenance DNA methylation."

Several groups comment on an April report from Quentin Atkinson — in which he reported evidence to suggest "an African origin of modern human languages" — in this week's Science. Ludwig Maximilian University's Michael Cysouw and his colleagues show that Atkinson's result was "an artifact of using suboptimal data, biased methodology, and unjustified assumptions," and "criticize his approach using more suitable data … suggesting a more complex scenario for the emergence of global linguistic diversity." In a separate article, investigators at Fudan University report "analyses using raw data without simplification," which they say "suggest a decline from central Asia rather than from Africa." Elsewhere, researchers in California also refute Atkinson's claim.

Atkinson defends his research in response to these comments, saying that he welcomes discussion of the data and alternative interpretations, though the points raised do "not undermine support for a serial founder effect model of expansion of language from Africa."

The Scan

CDC Calls Delta "Variant of Concern"

CNN reports the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 to be a "variant of concern."

From FDA to Venture Capital

Former FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn is taking a position at a venture capital firm, leading some ethicists to raise eyebrows, according to the Washington Post.

Consent Questions

Nature News writes that there are questions whether informed consent was obtained for some submissions to a database of Y-chromosome profiles.

Cell Studies on Multimodal Single-Cell Analysis, Coronaviruses in Bats, Urban Microbiomes

In Cell this week: approach to analyze multimodal single-cell genomic data, analysis of bat coronaviruses, and more.