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This Week in Science: Apr 12, 2014

In Science this week, a team led by University of Toronto researchers reported on an approach for characterizing the in vivo response of cells to perturbation by small molecules. Using a yeast chemogenomics platform that quantifies the requirement of genes for resistance to a compound in vivo, they profiled some 3,250 small molecules in a systematic and unbiased manner. From this, they uncovered 317 compounds that specifically perturb the function of 121 genes and characterized the mechanism through which certain compounds acted. Global analysis revealed that the cellular response to small molecules is limited and can be described by a network of 45 major chemogenomic signatures.

Meanwhile, in Science Translational Medicine, researchers from Duke University's Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy discuss the growing availability of non-invasive prenatal genetic testing using cell-free DNA circulating in maternal blood. Such testing can detect fetal trisomies like Down syndrome, among other conditions. They touch on the practical and ethical challenges this kind of testing poses, including regulatory issues and informed decision making by parents to be. "Despite potential benefits, NIPT raises several ethical and practical issues, including the regulation of test dissemination and quality, especially the return of fetal sex information, equity of access, and patient and provider understanding and education needed for appropriate implementation," the Duke scholars say.