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PNAS Papers on Samoan Traditional Medicine, Desert Plants, T1D Susceptibility

A team from Samoa, New Zealand, and the US present findings from an integrated analysis of a type of Samoan traditional medicine made from Psychotria insularum leaves, known as matalafi, that is used to treat inflammation, infections, fever, and other conditions. With the help of chemical screening on a yeast model organism deletion library, the investigators saw P. insularum leaf compound effects on yeast strains that were missing nearly two dozen genes involved in iron metabolism and other processes. Those findings were followed up with additional biochemical, metabolomic, and mammalian cell line experiments supporting potential iron binding and anti-inflammatory effects. "Our approach unifies genomics, metabolomics, analytical biochemistry, immunology, and traditional knowledge to delineate the mode of action of the traditional medicine … which can be used to better understand the ethnobotany of traditional medicine," the authors write.

Researchers from the US, Chile, and elsewhere search for genes under selection in plants growing in a harsh dry environment in Chile's Atacama Desert, known for its high altitude and ultraviolet light levels. Together with soil microbe sequencing and other environmental analyses, the team used transcriptome sequencing to characterize 32 species at an Atacama site known as the Talabre-Lejia transect, identifying higher-than-usual levels of plant genes from stress response, metabolism, and energy-related pathways. Likewise, a phylogenetic analysis that included 32 Atacama plant species and 32 related plants pointed to selection on potential plant survival-promoting genes in the desert plants. "This strategy enabled us to identify shared genetic changes, as well as plant lineage-specific ones, associated with plant adaptations to the harsh environment of the Atacama Desert," the authors report, "with potential relevance to engineering crops or biofuel species to thrive in marginal environments."

An international team led by investigators at the University of Paris describes de novo germline mutations that appear to speed the development of type 1 diabetes (T1D) in non-obese mouse models of the autoimmune disease. Using whole-genome sequencing, the researchers assessed rare T1D-related genes in two non-obese diabetes model mouse lines with higher- or lower levels of diabetes incidence, uncovering a recessively inherited missense mutation in the dual-specificity phosphatase enzyme-coding gene DUSP10 that was linked to enhanced T1D susceptibility in their quantitative trait mapping and subsequent gene editing experiments. From these and other findings, the authors suggest that "experimental models of spontaneous autoimmune diseases may be invaluable tools to map rare germline variants impacting disease susceptibility traits."