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Mendelian Randomization Study Questions Role of Obesity in Head and Neck Cancer Risk

Despite research linking obesity and related metabolic disorders to head and neck cancers (HNCs), metabolic traits may not be effective modifiable risk factors for these malignancies, according to a study appearing this week in eLife. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension have all been associated with HNC risk in observational studies, but these links could potentially be explained by selection bias, confounders such as tobacco smoking, and reverse causation. In their new study, investigators from the University of Bristol performed two-sample Mendelian randomization using genetic variants robustly associated with adiposity, as well as glycemic and blood pressure traits, in genome-wide association studies. They find limited evidence to support a causal role of genetically predicted metabolic traits in oral and oropharyngeal cancer, suggesting the risk may have been previously overestimated in observational studies. As such, the modification metabolic traits may not be an effective prevention strategy in HNC. Still, the study's authors caution that small effects cannot be excluded given the lack of power to detect them in currently available HNC genome-wide association studies.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.