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This Week in Science: Oct 17, 2008

In news, Science looks into the recent kerfuffle over deCode's breast cancer genetic test -- which costs $1625 and tests seven genes but doesn't include BRCA1 or BRCA2. 

Science's Bruce Alberts spoke with China's science premier, Wen Jiabao, about earthquakes, transgenic crops, supporting basic research, energy, and science as diplomacy. In the issue's excerpt, Jiabao is quite candid. A more extensive Q&A is on their website.

In going through the late Stanley Miller's effects, researchers found the apparatuses and residues from his famous experiments. The researchers, led by Jeffrey Bada, were interested in Miller's second experimental setup, that more resembled lightning in a steam-rich volcanic eruption. Bada and his colleagues reanalyzed Miller's 11 vials with modern tools and found 22 amino acids and five amines and say the yield is similar to, or slightly exceeds, Miller's. As PZ Myers writes, "So good work, Dr Miller!"

Duncan Odom and his colleagues compared gene expression regulation in liver cells of mouse Down Syndrome model, which contains a copy of the human chromosome 21 in addition to the mouse genome, to gene expression regulation in human liver cells. They found that transcription is directed by genetic sequence and that "interspecies differences in epigenetic machinery, cellular environment, and transcription factors themselves play secondary roles," write the authors. A related Perspectives by Princeton scientists says these "findings also call into question one of the basic tenets of comparative genomics: that evolutionary conservation can serve as the primary tool for finding functional sequences."

Caltech researchers Maung Nyan Win and Christina Smolke have used synthetic RNA devices to process cellular information. The devices can be used as logic gates and process input that comes out as gene expression. A Perspectives piece adds, "Win and Smolke further advance the state of the art by demonstrating programmable in vivo computation that is independent of the cell's own machinery and yet can respond to both endogenous and exogenous molecular signals." Smolke tells Tech Review that, in the future, this could be helpful for smart drug delivery.

Science also contains a special cell signaling section. One paper looks into feedback motifs and loops as regulatory elements. Another shows how mathematical modeling and quantitative experimentation can be useful in this field. Lastly, a paper discusses how optical switches could be used to determine where and when individual proteins act.


The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.