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This Week in Nature: Apr 2, 2015

In Nature this week, Broad Institute scientists describe an improved version of the genome-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9. Though widely used, the reliance of the approach on the relatively large Cas9 enzyme, which cuts DNA in specific locations, has restricted its use to cell lines and embryonic manipulation. The researchers were able to alter the system to use a smaller version of the Cas9 enzyme that was discovered in the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. They were then able to use this new system to target a cholesterol regulatory gene in mice. GenomeWeb has more on this study here.

And in Nature Genetics, a team of French scientists reports the results of an exome sequencing analysis of 243 liver tumors that identified new mutational signatures and potential therapeutic targets for the hepatocellular carcinoma. They found mutational signatures associated with specific risk factors such as combined alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as 161 putative driver genes associated with 11 recurrently altered pathways. In nearly 30 percent of tumors, the researchers also found genetic alterations potentially druggable by FDA-approved therapeutics. GenomeWeb also covers this study here.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.