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This Week in Science: Feb 8, 2013

In Science this week, investigators from Oak Ridge National Laboratory report on the genetic basis for mercury methylation, the process of converting mercury into the neurotoxin methylmercury, by bacteria. The team examined the genomes of two sulfur-reducing bacteria — Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 and Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA — and found that two genes, if deleted alone or together, abolishes the organisms' ability to process mercury. Because these genes are present in other lineages of bacteria and archaea, the ability to produce methylmercury may be more widespread than previously believed.

Also in Science, a multi-institute team of French researchers publish the crystal structure of papillomavirus proteins, offering a potential new target for fighting the infection, which is known to cause a variety of cancers including cervical cancer. Papillomaviruses rely on a protein called E6 to bind to and deactivate certain host proteins. The scientists determined the structure of both human and bovine E6 proteins bound to their host proteins and described two zinc domains and a linker helix that form a hydrophobic binding site. Mutational inactivation of this site disrupts the oncogenic activities of the E6 proteins, suggesting a new area for therapeutic intervention.

The Scan

Foxtail Millet Pangenome, Graph-Based Reference Genome

Researchers in Nature Genetics described their generation of a foxtail millet pangenome, which they say can help in crop trait improvement.

Protein Length Distribution Consistent Across Species

An analysis in Genome Biology compares the lengths of proteins across more than 2,300 species, finding similar length distributions.

Novel Genetic Loci Linked to Insulin Resistance in New Study

A team reports in Nature Genetics that it used glucose challenge test data to home in on candidate genes involved in GLUT4 expression or trafficking.

RNA Editing in Octopuses Seems to Help Acclimation to Shifts in Water Temperature

A paper in Cell reports that octopuses use RNA editing to help them adjust to different water temperatures.