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This Week in Science: Jun 14, 2013

In Science this week, a team led by University of Tubingen researchers report the sequencing and analysis of the genomes of medieval and modern Mycobacterium leprae, the pathogen responsible for leprosy, using ancient skeletons and existing patients. They found that the bacterium has not changed much genetically over the past millennium, with only about 800 mutations occurring among the 16 genomes examined, and that strains from the Americas most likely originated in Europe.

Also in Science, Japanese investigators describe the discovery of two microRNAs that may play a key role in human reproduction. Ovulation in mammals is controlled by hormones secreted by the hypothalamopituitary-ovarian axis — the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonads — which also expresses miRNAs. The scientists created knockout mice lacking miR-200b, which is detected in male reproductive organs, and ones lacking miR-429, which sits near the other miRNA in the mouse genome. While males were unaffected by the missing miRNAs, female mice experienced a sharp decrease in fertility. Because the miR-200b cluster is also present in people, the findings suggest that the miRNAs also be involved in human reproduction.

The Scan

ChatGPT Does As Well As Humans Answering Genetics Questions, Study Finds

Researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics had ChatGPT answer genetics-related questions, finding it was about 68 percent accurate, but sometimes gave different answers to the same question.

Sequencing Analysis Examines Gene Regulatory Networks of Honeybee Soldier, Forager Brains

Researchers in Nature Ecology & Evolution find gene regulatory network differences between soldiers and foragers, suggesting bees can take on either role.

Analysis of Ashkenazi Jewish Cohort Uncovers New Genetic Loci Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

The study in Alzheimer's & Dementia highlighted known genes, but also novel ones with biological ties to Alzheimer's disease.

Tara Pacific Expedition Project Team Finds High Diversity Within Coral Reef Microbiome

In papers appearing in Nature Communications and elsewhere, the team reports on findings from the two-year excursion examining coral reefs.