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Look into the Issue

After a study in 2011 found that black grant applicants were less likely to receive funding than their white colleagues, the US National Institutes of Health announced that it would be examining its grant-awarding process for bias. As ScienceInsider reports, the agency will be launching that review later this year.

As part of this effort, names, research institutions, and other identifying information has been removed from 1,200 grant applications submitted between 2014 and 2015, ScienceInsider says. The anonymized grant applications will then be sent out to researchers to review, just as in the first stage of the NIH peer-review process.

NIH’s Center for Scientific Review's Richard Nakamura decided to focus on this stage of peer review, as this appears to be the point in the process that led to the discrepancy between black and white applicants, ScienceInsider notes. CSR is funding the review, but an outside firm is conducting it, it adds.

In particular, the project will compare 400 applications submitted by black researchers and will compare them to 400 applications submitted by white researchers that have been matched to the research topic, institution type, and original score, among other variables. The final 400 applications were submitted by white applicants, but were otherwise chosen at random.

However, ScienceInsider says that some researchers like University of Wisconsin's Molly Carnes who study the peer-review process are skeptical that anonymization will address the issue. Still, Carnes says it's heartening that "NIH is willing to shine a light on its own processes."

The Scan

Foxtail Millet Pangenome, Graph-Based Reference Genome

Researchers in Nature Genetics described their generation of a foxtail millet pangenome, which they say can help in crop trait improvement.

Protein Length Distribution Consistent Across Species

An analysis in Genome Biology compares the lengths of proteins across more than 2,300 species, finding similar distributions.

Novel Genetic Loci Linked to Insulin Resistance in New Study

A team reports in Nature Genetics that it used glucose challenge test data to home in on candidate genes involved in in GLUT4 expression or trafficking.

RNA Editing in Octopuses Seems to Help Acclimation to Shifts in Water Temperature

A paper in Cell reports that octopuses use RNA editing to help them adjust to different water temperatures.