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This Week in Science: Apr 20, 2012

In this week's Science, an international team led by investigators at the UK's Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology shows that "genetic information can be stored in and recovered from six alternative genetic polymers — xeno-nucleic acids, or XNAs, which are not found in nature. The team also shows that "specific XNAs have the capacity for Darwinian evolution and folding into defined structures," suggesting that heredity and evolution "are not limited to DNA and RNA but are likely to be emergent properties of polymers capable of information storage."

As our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News reports, an international team "has found genetic evidence contradicting the notion that the polar bear is a relatively young and quickly evolving species." The German-led group investigated the nuclear genomes of a broad sample of polar, brown, and black bears, and write in Science that their results "highlight that multilocus genomic analyses are crucial for an accurate understanding of evolutionary history."

Elsewhere in Science this week, researchers at Japan's Riken Brain Science Institute identify the yeast transfer RNA isopentenyltransferase Mod5 as a prion protein, whose "prion conversion [regulates] the sterol biosynthetic pathway for acquired cellular resistance against antifungal agents."

Finally, in a perspective piece appearing in this week's issue, Darryl Shibataat the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine discusses intratumor heterogeneity in a historical context, saying that "how to best reconstruct the histories written in tumor genomes is uncertain, with many challenges in developing optimal sampling schemes and algorithms." Shibataat suggests that "serial biopsies can help monitor treatment by measuring reductions in heterogeneity expected with more effective therapies."

The Scan

Quality Improvement Study Compares Molecular Tumor Boards, Central Consensus Recommendations

With 50 simulated cancer cases, researchers in JAMA Network Open compared molecular tumor board recommendations with central consensus plans at a dozen centers in Japan.

Lupus Heterogeneity Highlighted With Single-Cell Transcriptomes

Using single-cell RNA sequencing, researchers in Nature Communications tracked down immune and non-immune cell differences between discoid lupus erythematosus and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Rare Disease Clues Gleaned From Mobile Element Insertions in Exome Sequences

With an approach called MELT, researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics uncovered mobile element insertions in exomes from 3,232 individuals with or without developmental or neurological abnormalities.

Team Tracks Down Potential Blood Plasma Markers Linked to Heart Failure in Atrial Fibrillation Patients

Researchers in BMC Genomics found 10 differentially expressed proteins or metabolites that marked atrial fibrillation with heart failure cases.