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This Week in Science: Oct 4, 2013

In Science this week, a team researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and elsewhere report on the discovery of fungal small RNAs that block a host plant's defense mechanisms by hijacking its RNAi pathways. The investigators studied the fungus Botrytis cinerea, which causes gray mold disease in certain plants, and identified 832 small RNAs that invaded the cells of Arabidopsis and tomato plants when they were infected by the pathogen. Of those, 73 sRNAs appeared capable of targeting specific host genes and silencing mRNA. Further examination showed that three sRNAs could bind to the plant's Argonaute protein, forming a complex that took over the host's RNAi machinery. As a result, the fungus was able to suppress certain genes in the plants that are associated with immunity.

Also in Science, a Yale University group presents a study combining two large-scale genome-analysis projects to look at the role of genetic variation in disease. The investigators examined data from the 1000 Genomes project, the ENCODE project, and other initiatives and found several harmful variants that impacted health, including ones that occurred in non-coding DNA. With these data, the scientists created bioinformatics software that allowed them to identify variants in non-coding DNA could be used as proxies for the likelihood of developing cancer-related mutations.

GenomeWeb Daily News has more on this study here.