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This Week in Nature: Nov 17, 2016

In this week's Nature, an international team of researchers reports a new CRISPR/Cas9-based approach for the targeted integration of transgenes in dividing and non-dividing cells, both in vitro and in vivo. The homology-independent targeted integration (HITI) strategy is expected to help advance basic and translational neuroscience research, according to the investigators, who demonstrated its applicability by improving visual function in rats. "For example, HITI-mediated insertion of optogenetic activators into downstream of a specified gene locus may help gain cell-type-specific control over neuronal activities," the researchers write. "HITI may also allow, for instance, the generation of knock-in reporters for tracing cells in live animals."

And in Nature Genetics, a multi-institute research group describes the use of electronic health records to conduct a genome-wide association study that lead to the identification of new loci involved in blood pressure variation. They examined electronic records on nearly 100,000 individuals from the Genetic Epidemiology Research on Adult Health and Aging, obtaining about 1.3 million systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements for a GWAS on long-term average systolic, diastolic, and pulse pressure. When combined with findings from two other large-scale studies, the analysis identified 71 distinct new genome-wide significant loci, demonstrating the enhanced power of both gene discovery and characterization afforded by the expanded sample sizes afforded by electronic health records.

And in Nature Communications, a team led by University of Illinois investigators presents a genetic analysis that points to changes in the immune systems of indigenous individuals living on the Northwest Coast of North America following the introduction of European-borne epidemics in the 1800s. The researchers analyzed DNA from 25 individuals who lived in British Columbia some 1,000 years to 6,000 years ago, and modern-day individuals from this same region. They found immune system gene variants that may have been advantageous in the ancient peoples decreased in frequency in modern individuals. They suspected that the change might be connected to infectious disease epidemics in the 1800s, introduced by European colonists, which are believed to have led to the collapse of native populations. GenomeWeb has more on this study, here.