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Nature Studies Investigate Influenza Polymerase, Annotated Pea Plant Assembly, More

Research into the viral-RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (FluPolA) that transcribes and replicates the influenza A genome has revealed new details about the mechanisms underlying viral genome replication. In a study appearing in Nature this week, University of Oxford scientists use crystallography and cryoelectron microscopy to determine the structures of FluPolA from both human and avian influenza A viruses. The team also uses cell-based and in vitro assays to show that the interface of the FluPolA dimer is required for genomic viral RNA (vRNA) synthesis during replication of the viral genome. The investigators further demonstrate that a single-domain antibody — known as a nanobody — that interferes with FluPolA dimerization inhibits the synthesis of vRNA and, consequently, virus replication in infected cells, which could help in the development of new anti-flu therapeutics. 

The first annotated chromosome-level reference genome assembly for the pea — Gregor Mendel's original genetic model — is published in Nature Genetics this week. Among the observations from the work are a major role of repetitive elements in pea genome evolution and "intense gene dynamics" compared with other sequenced legume genomes. The researchers who constructed the assembly say their work "will accelerate our understanding of the molecular basis of agronomically important traits and support crop improvement." 

An algorithm for inferring whole-genome histories in large population datasets is presented in Nature Genetics this week. The algorithm can not only infer whole-genome histories with comparable accuracy to the state-of-the-art, its creators state, but also process four orders of magnitude more sequences. "The approach also provides an evolutionary encoding of the data, enabling efficient calculation of relevant statistics," they write. The algorithm is applied to human data from the 1000 Genomes Project, the Simons Genome Diversity Project, and the UK Biobank, demonstrating that the inferred genealogies are "rich in biological signal and efficient to process."