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Proteins From the Past

Although researchers have been able to sequence DNA teased out from long-dead samples — the sequencing of a 700,000-year-old horse was reported in 2013 — there's a point at which DNA becomes too degraded to analyze. But proteins persist longer and examining them, says, is enabling researchers to glimpse the even more distant past.

A University of Copenhagen-led team of researchers used such a protein-focused approach to examine a 1.77-million-year-old Stephanorhinus tooth. As they report in Nature, the researchers used mass spectrometry to determine what proteins were present in their ancient rhinoceros' dental sample. Based on this, they performed a molecular phylogenetic analysis that indicated Stephanorhinus was a sister group to the clade containing the wooly rhinoceros and Merck's rhinoceros, and not its direct ancestor, as notes.

"For 20 years ancient DNA has been used to address questions about the evolution of extinct species, adaptation and human migration but it has limitations," first author Enrico Cappellini from the University of Copenhagen says in a statement. "Now for the first time we have retrieved ancient genetic information which allows us to reconstruct molecular evolution way beyond the usual time limit of DNA preservation." 

The Scan

Cancer Survival Linked to Mutational Burden in Pan-Cancer Analysis

A pan-cancer paper appearing in JCO Precision Oncology suggests tumor mutation patterns provide clues for predicting cancer survival that are independent of other prognostic factors.

Australian Survey Points to Public Support for Genetic Risk Disclosure in Relatives of At-Risk Individuals

A survey in the European Journal of Human Genetics suggests most adult Australians are in favor of finding out if a relative tests positive for a medically actionable genetic variant.

Study Links Evolution of Stony Coral Skeleton to Bicarbonate Transporter Gene

A PNAS paper focuses on a skeleton-related bicarbonate transporter gene introduced to stony coral ancestors by tandem duplication.

Hormone-Based Gene Therapy to Sterilize Domestic Cat

A new paper in Nature Communication suggests that gene therapy could be a safer alternative to spaying domestic cats.