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This Week in Nature: Mar 5, 2009

Stem-cell researchers led by Andreas Nagy at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Keisuke Kaji at the University of Edinburgh have bypassed using viral vectors to create iPS cells by inserting pluripotency genes into a "cassette" that also contained the transposon piggyBAC. The two papers appear in the early online edition of Nature. "The teams showed that this cassette could be inserted into the DNA of mouse and human skin cells and could reprogram them back to an embryonic-like state," says a news story.

Harold Varmus has published an autobiography, which, according to a review, "shows why he is one of Barack Obama's top science advisers in Washington DC," explains Iain Mattaj, director general of EMBL. "His ability to connect basic research to medical application is frequently evident elsewhere in the book. Was this a result of learning on the job [as NIH director], or does it partly explain why he was such a successful advocate for the NIH?"

Two papers look at new methods to visualize protein structures inside living cells. "A more difficult problem is to address how the numerous, nonspecific, low-affinity interactions, which are omnipresent in cells, affect a protein's structure," says a related news story. In one paper, Japanese scientists used in-cell NMR over the short course of two to three hours to determine the three-dimensional structure of a putative heavy-metal-binding protein, TTHA1718, expressed in bacterial cells. In the second, scientists used a labeled target protein with a cell-penetrating peptide, which allowed them to watch protein dynamics inside human cells.

University of Michigan's Arul Chinnaiyan has used transcriptome sequencing to detect gene fusions in cancer. As proof of concept, he used transcriptome sequencing to 're-discover' the BCR–ABL1 gene fusion in a chronic myelogenous leukemia cell line and the TMPRSS2–ERG gene fusion in a prostate cancer cell line and tissues. The work opens up "an important class of cancer-related mutations for comprehensive characterization," his team writes in the abstract.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.