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This Week in PLOS: Nov 12, 2018

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from Australia and China search for somatic mutation associations in more than 7,800 cancer exomes using data from the Cancer Genome Atlas project. The team's analyses unearthed 39 significant associations involving specific driver mutations and mutational signatures based on exome sequence data for 7,815 cancers from 26 tumor types. Among them were mutational signatures and driver mutations related to aging or risky mutagenic processes such as cigarette smoking. Such associations "give insights into how cancers acquire advantageous mutations and can provide direction to guide further mechanistic studies into cancer pathogenesis," the authors write.

A team from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases describes a pathogen detection assay designed to detect infectious disease agents ranging from the Ebola virus to malaria-causing bacterial species such as Plasmodium falciparum. The approach, which involves a NanoString nCounter-based multiplex assay targeting as many as 164 human pathogens, has already shown promising results for detecting the presence of the 113 pathogens in mock clinical and human samples, the researchers say. Based on their results so far, the investigators say the nCounter-based assay "could improve infectious disease diagnostics and biosurveillance efforts as a quick, highly multiplexed, and easy to use pathogen screening tool."

Researchers from the University of Texas School of Public Health, Baylor College of Medicine, the Houston-based company Diversigen, and elsewhere explore potential microbial markers of colorectal cancer for a paper appearing in PLOS One. When the team applied its computational approaches to 16S ribosomal RNA sequence data for 294 matched tumor and normal pairs or from 42 sets of tumor biopsies with matched fecal samples, it saw a rise in several microbes — including Fusobacterium, Parvimonas, and Streptococcus — in the colorectal cancer tumors. A related study by investigators at the Mayo Clinic came out in Genome Medicine late last month, uncovering Fusobacterium and other microbes with altered representation in specific colorectal cancer types.