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This Week in PLOS: Aug 22, 2016

In PLOS Genetics, a large team led by investigators at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, and National Jewish Health in Denver describes a search for common variants impacting chronic obstructive lung disease biomarkers in the blood. Using SNP patterns for more than 1,300 current or former smokers with or without the lung condition enrolled through two clinical cohorts, the researchers did a meta-analysis focused on variants associated with levels of 88 blood proteins that have been proposed as COPD biomarkers. In the process, they uncovered more than 500 protein quantitative trait loci associated with 38 of the blood proteins considered — including variants that appeared to bump up the predictive ability of models designed to discern COPD risk from blood biomarker patterns.

A PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases paper by Brazilian and Australian investigators suggests that the genetic diversity of the cryptococcosis-causing fungus Cryptococcus gattii from the VGII molecular type is particularly high in Brazil, pointing to a northern Brazilian origin for C. gattii strains emerging in North America's Pacific northwest. The team used multilocus sequence typing genotyping and phylogenetic analyses to assess 145 clinical and environmental isolates of C. gattii from four regions in Brazil. Along with genetic diversity in the isolates, the group saw apparent ties between C. gattii in Brazil and the virulent ancestors of type VGII isolates involved in infections in immunocompromised individuals in other parts of the world.

A team from the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service searched for microRNA markers found in beef cattle producing serum antibodies when exposed to the respiratory disease-causing pathogen Mycoplasma bovis. As they report in PLOS One, the researchers did miRNA sequencing on blood serum samples from 16 beef calves during their first summer, fall, and subsequent spring. In addition to miRNAs that differed depending on the season, the investigators identified a handful of miRNAs that appeared to coincide with anti-M. bovis antibody detection in cattle serum by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. "Further studies are needed to establish if these microRNAs could be used as [a] diagnostic marker or indicator of exposure," they write, "or whether intervention strategies could be developed as an alternative to antibiotics for controlling disease due to M. bovis."