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This Week in Nature: Jul 21, 2016

In this week's Nature Genetics, two teams of researchers present studies of modern and ancient barley that suggest that the plant in Israel and Jordan has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. In the first paper, a Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research-led team sequenced DNA from 6,000-year-old barley grains from a desert cave near the Dead Sea, while in the second, a UK-led team of investigators sequenced the DNA of more than 260 barley plants from around the world. By analyzing and comparing these datasets, the groups were able to show that modern-day barley from Israel and Jordan is closely related to the ancient grains, regardless of climate changes and differences in farming practices. 

Also in Nature Genetics, a group from the University of Edinburgh present data showing that both genetics and familial environment play key roles in common diseases within families. Using family history data on more than 1.5 million individuals from the UK Biobank, the researchers estimated the heritability of 12 complex diseases using two models: one that doesn't take into account environmental factors shared by family members and one that enables an estimation of both environmental and genetic factors. They found that while heritability was a significant factor in familial disease clustering, shared environment also makes substantial contributions. They argued that both should be taken into account when it comes to disease risk prediction. GenomeWeb has more on this study, here

And in Nature Communications, a team led by University of Maryland investigators publishes a study in which they used comparative genomics and RNA-sequencing analysis to uncover new details about mucormycosis, a deadly infection caused by the fungus Mucorales. The researchers sequenced the genomes of 30 Mucorales isolates and conducted transcriptomic analyses on three representative strains in response to lung epithelial cells, uncovering several pathways required for mucormycosis pathogenesis. The findings provide insights into the evolution of the group of fungi and point to new potential areas for therapeutic intervention.