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This Week in Nature: Nov 1, 2018

In Nature Ecology & Evolution this week, an international research team presents the results of genomic and other analyses that suggest Theobroma cacao — the plant used to make chocolate — was domesticated earlier and in a different region than currently believed. While existing archeological evidence indicates that cacao was domesticated 3,900 years ago in Central America, the scientists identified the plant in three independent lines of evidence — cacao starch grains, residues of the T. cacao-specific alkaloid theobromine, and ancient DNA — in artifacts from a site in Ecuador that dates back 5,300 years. "To our knowledge, these findings constitute the earliest evidence of T. cacao use in the Americas and the first unequivocal archaeological example of its pre-Columbian use in South America," the authors write.

And in Nature Genetics, investigators from Amgen subsidiary Decode Genetics and collaborators report the discovery of new osteoarthritis-associated genetic variants through a meta-analysis of samples from Iceland and the UK Biobank. Among the findings are 16 novel loci — 12 for hip osteoarthritis and 4 for knee osteoarthritis — two of which are rare or low-frequency missense variants. The researchers also discover that a large fraction of the osteoarthritis risk variants associate with height, with the risk alleles associating with either increased or decreased height, "suggesting that these associations disturb pathways that affect the growth and differentiation of bone and cartilage in ways that affect height both positively and negatively." GenomeWeb has more on this, here.

The Scan

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.

Topical Compound to Block EGFR Inhibitors May Ease Skin Toxicities, Study Finds

A topical treatment described in Science Translational Medicine may limit skin toxicities seen with EGFR inhibitor therapy.

Dozen Genetic Loci Linked to Preeclampsia Risk in New GWAS

An analysis of genome-wide association study data in JAMA Cardiology finds genetic loci linked to preeclampsia that have ties to blood pressure.

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.