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This Week in Science: Feb 21, 2014

In this week's Science, a team from the University of Zurich and the The Santa Fe Institute present data showing how robustness — the maintenance of a character in the presence of genetic change — does not necessarily conflict with evolution. The researchers analyzed the transcription factor binding sites of 193 transcription factors from mice and yeast genomes, and showed that the binding sites of larger genotype networks are not only more robust, but the sequences next to such networks can also bind more transcription factors — findings that demonstrate that robustness can facilitate evolvability.

Over in Science Translational Medicine, researchers led by Luis Diaz at Johns Hopkins University report that circulating tumor DNA can be used to detect a number of different cancer types. They used a digital PCR-based approach to detect ctDNA in some 640 patients with different types of cancer. From this, they were able to uncover ctDNA in more than 75 percent of patients with certain advanced cancers, but could only detect ctDNA about half of certain primary cancers. Additionally, they found that the sensitivity and specificity of ctDNA to detect KRAS mutations in people with metastatic colorectal cancers was fairly high and that ctDNA could also be used to provide hints to how cnacers become treatment resistance. "[T]hese data suggest that ctDNA is a broadly applicable, sensitive, and specific biomarker that can be used for a variety of clinical and research purposes in patients with multiple different types of cancer," the researchers say.

GenomeWeb Daily News also covers this paper here.