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This Week in Science: Sep 22, 2012

In this week's Science, researchers from Stanford University Medical Center report on how the analysis of the genomes of feral cats revealed two genes responsible for fur color and patterning on both domestic felines and their wild cheetah counterparts. Given that some house cats have coat markings similar to tigers and cheetahs, the team speculates that these features are controlled by similar genes in the different animals. They pinpoint one in particular, called Taqpep, whose loss disrupts cats' color patterns without affecting other parts of the animals' physiology, and found that mutations on this gene result in a blotched pattern found on certain domestic cats and a rare breed of cheetah. Another gene, Edn3, controls hair color in both house cats and cheetahs.

Also in Science, investigators from Harvard Medical School publish the electron microscopy structure of a key part of mechanism by which dyneins — molecular motors used to transport cellular cargo such as proteins and organelles — operate. To function, dyneins used ATP-derived energy to crawl toward the minus ends of cytoskeletal microtubles. Unlike other molecular motors, dynein does not have its ATPase and polymer track binding sites located within a single domain. The researchers, however, were able to generate a pseudo-atomic model of the dynein microtubule binding domain bound to microtubules in a high-affinity state, providing "a molecular model for how dynein's binding to microtubules is communicated to the rest of the motor."

Lastly, collaborators from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and Washington University provide an overview of growing evidence suggesting that disordered regions within proteins are active and that their interaction with structured regions "expands the functional repertoires of proteins." They stress that while in vitro studies and molecular simulations can provide insights into this phenomenon, "disordered regions need to be studied in biologically relevant contexts to understand how complex functions emerge through the synergy between structured domains and disordered regions." Joining complementing computational approaches, functional studies, and systems-level analyses of disorder with biophysical investigations will "yield important insights regarding sequence-disorder-function relationships."

The Scan

Dropped Charges

The US Justice Department has dropped visa fraud charges against five Chinese researchers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

More Kids

The Associated Press says Moderna is expanding its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine study to included additional children and may include even younger children.

PNAS Papers on Rat Clues to Human Migration, Thyroid Cancer, PolyG-DS

In PNAS this week: ancient rat genome analysis gives hints to human migrations, WDR77 gene mutations in thyroid cancer, and more.

Purnell Choppin Dies

Purnell Choppin, a virologist who led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has died at 91, according to the Washington Post.