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This Week in Nature: Jul 12, 2018

In this week's Nature, a team of US and Chinese scientists describes using genome mining to identify a natural herbicide with a unique mechanism of action. By scanning the genomes of filamentous fungi — many of which make compounds that kill plants to aid in colonization — the scientists pinpointed a gene cluster involved in the production of aspterric acid, which inhibits an enzyme involved in the final step of a key biological pathway in plants. Further experimentation showed aspterric acid is an effective herbicide when delivered as a spray and that the gene cluster could confer resistance to the agent when transferred into plants. "Our discovery demonstrates the potential of using a resistance gene-directed approach in the discovery of bioactive natural products," the authors write.

Also in Nature, a multi-institute research group reports a CRISPR-based method for reprogramming human T cells that does not require the use of viral vectors. The approach allows for the rapid and efficient insertion of large DNA sequences at specific sites in the genomes of primary human T cells, and preserves cell viability and function. The investigators used the technique to correct a pathogenic mutation in cells from patients with a monogenic autoimmune disease, as well as to engineer T cells to selectively attack cancer cells. The findings show that non-viral genome editing can enable the therapeutic engineering of primary human immune cells, the researchers say.

The Scan

Foxtail Millet Pangenome, Graph-Based Reference Genome

Researchers in Nature Genetics described their generation of a foxtail millet pangenome, which they say can help in crop trait improvement.

Protein Length Distribution Consistent Across Species

An analysis in Genome Biology compares the lengths of proteins across more than 2,300 species, finding similar length distributions.

Novel Genetic Loci Linked to Insulin Resistance in New Study

A team reports in Nature Genetics that it used glucose challenge test data to home in on candidate genes involved in GLUT4 expression or trafficking.

RNA Editing in Octopuses Seems to Help Acclimation to Shifts in Water Temperature

A paper in Cell reports that octopuses use RNA editing to help them adjust to different water temperatures.