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This Week in Nature: Mar 9, 2017

In this week's Nature, a team of Australian and British scientists report new details about the diet of Neanderthals using DNA preserved in ancient tooth plaque. The team sequenced DNA from the calculus of five Neanderthals from across Europe to obtain a genetic blueprint of their diet and health. They discovered that a Neanderthal from Belgium consumed woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, while one from Spain ate pine nuts, moss, and mushrooms. By reconstructing the Neanderthals' oral microbiomes, the researchers were also able to get insights into their overall health. For instance, one specimen had a dental abscess and stomach disorder that they were treating with the natural painkiller poplar and the antibiotic-producing Penicillium bacteria. GenomeWeb has more on this study, here.

Also in Nature, a University of Adelaide-led team publishes a study of more than 100 Aboriginal Australian mitochondrial genomes showing that the settlement of Australia stemmed from a single rapid migration beginning along the coasts and reached the southern end of the continent around 49,000 years ago. The scientists extracted and analyzed mitochondrial genomes from hair samples collected between the 1920s and 1970s from 111 individuals across three different Aboriginal communities, and were able to recreate the genetic and historical relationships among Aboriginal Australian groups before the arrival of Europeans. In addition to tracking the spread of the first humans in Australia, they uncovered evidence that Aboriginal Australian populations persisted in discrete geographical regions dating back some 50,000 years. GenomeWeb also covers this, here.

Lastly in Nature, an international group of researchers reports on a new genome-wide method for measuring chromatin contacts and other features of three-dimensional chromatin topology based on sequencing DNA from a large collection of thin nuclear sections. Called genome architecture mapping — or GAM — the method was used with mouse embryonic stem cells to identify enrichment for specific interactions between active genes and enhancers across very large genomic distances using a mathematical model. The method also revealed "an abundance of three-way contacts across the genome, especially between regions that are highly transcribed or contain super-enhancers, providing a level of insight into genome architecture that, owing to the technical limitations of current technologies, has previously remained unattainable," the researchers say. And there's more on this one, too, here.

The Scan

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.

Active Lifestyle Linked to Type 2 Diabetes Prevention in People at High Genetic Risk

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that an active lifestyle goes a long way in type 2 diabetes prevention.

Beneficial, Harmful Effects of Introgression Between Wild and Domesticated European Grapes

A paper in PNAS shows that European wild grapevines were an important resource for improving the flavor of cultivated wine grapes.

Genetic Ancestry of South America's Indigenous Mapuche Traced

Researchers in Current Biology analyzed genome-wide data from more than five dozen Mapuche individuals to better understand their genetic history.