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PLOS Papers Explore HCC MicroRNAs, PCR-Based Schistosomiasis Diagnostics, More

For a paper in PLOS One, researchers in Korea describe microRNA expression shifts in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cases that involve vascular invasion after liver resection — a known contributor to poorer-than-usual HCC patient outcomes. Using available gene expression data from the Gene Expression Omnibus, the team searched for miRNA expression differences in HCC tumors accompanied by gross vascular invasion, compared to those that were not. After narrowing in on almost three-dozen suspicious miRNAs, the authors validated three miRNAs with data generated for the Cancer Genome Atlas project, demonstrating that diminished expression of miR-100-5p and miR-148a-3p, in particular, coincided with both vascular invasion and with shorter overall survival times in HCC patients post-resection.

A team from France outlines a real-time PCR-based strategy for diagnosing schistosomiasis, a condition caused by freshwater parasites such as Schistosoma mansoni or S. haematobium. As they report in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the investigators used their in-house rtPCR tests to assess 86 stool samples, 124 urine samples, 194 blood serum samples, and eight biopsy samples — all collected prior to treatment — in individuals with potential schistosome infections. When they compared the PCR-based approach to typical microscopy-based diagnoses, the authors found that PCR "greatly improved the diagnosis of both parasite species in urine, feces, and biopsies." From these and other findings, they suggest blood-based testing for Schistosoma DNA "is useful to confirm schistosomiasis diagnosis, to provide a species identification when the microscopy research is negative, and to monitor the treatment efficacy."

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from the US and China present a reference genome for a strain of wheat blast disease-causing Magnaporthe oryzae (Triticum pathotype), a fungus capable of wiping out wheat crop yields. The team did short- and long-read sequencing on an aggressive Bolivian field isolate, focusing in on core chromosome and mini-chromosome sequences that code for effector proteins expressed in plants as the fungus invades its host. Through comparisons with other wheat blast strains and blast strains known for infecting rice, the authors saw signs that "the fast-evolving effector-rich compartment of the wheat blast fungus is a combination of core chromosome ends and mobile mini-chromosomes that are easily lost from individual strains."