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This Week in PLOS: Aug 21, 2017

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from Queensland University of Technology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and elsewhere search for host genetic factors associated with progression to cervical neoplasia in women with cervical human papillomavirus (HPV). With a genome-wide association study involving 2,866 women with cervical neoplasia and 6,481 control individuals, the team looked at variant patterns in relation to neoplasia, HPV infection status, and/or cervical cancer status, if applicable. The search led to neoplasia-associated SNPs in immune related sequences — including a major histocompatibility complex region — and highlighted at least two potentially risky human leukocyte antigen haplotypes. "Our findings could lay the foundation for screening for people at increased risk of developing cancer following HPV infection, and aid in the treatment and prognosis of cervical cancer," the authors note.

A team from France and India describe predicted Pleistocene population patterns for an ancient flowering rainforest plant called Amborella trichopoda that made its home on New Caledonia. As they report in PLOS One, the researchers used a combination of whole-genome sequencing and microsatellite genotyping to characterize a dozen Amborella populations. Their phylogenetic analyses and genetic models pointed to distinct ancestral groups of Amborella in northern and southern regions of New Caledonia that seem to have split from one another roughly 23,400 years ago.

Romanian and American researchers present evidence of altered microRNA networks in individuals with sepsis for another PLOS One paper. For its computational modeling analyses, the team tapped into available blood expression data for 99 individuals with sepsis and 53 individuals without, focusing on 16 human and viral miRNAs previously implicated in sepsis immune responses. Based on the miRNA networks they assembled from these data, the authors saw signs that "the microRNA network of the septic patients is significantly less connected when compared to [the] miRNA network of the healthy controls" — a loss of connectivity that they suspect may stem from the presence of RNA transcripts that serve as "natural miRNA decoys or sponges" under sepsis conditions.