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This Week in PLOS: Oct 17, 2016

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and elsewhere describe findings from an analysis aimed at uncovering genetic and environmental interactions that affect susceptibility to colorectal cancer. Using data for thousands of colorectal cancer cases and unaffected controls the Colon Cancer Family Registry and the Genetics and Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer Consortium projects, the team searched for interactions between alcohol consumption, cigarette use, and genetic variants involved in colorectal cancer risk. The analysis uncovered ties between a chromosome 9 locus and colorectal cancer that appeared to be affected by alcohol consumption.

A team from France, Israel, and Senegal explores genetic diversity in ancient human head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) representatives from sites in the Middle East. Using DNA obtained from two dozen ancient head lice and lice egg samples found in combs excavated at sites in present-day Israel, the researchers profiled 12S RNA and cytochrome b gene markers with the help of conventional PCR and real-time PCR. The lice, dated as far back as 2,000 years, included representatives from a haplogroup that's currently found around the world as well as a haplogroup known as clade B with more limited distribution that's been documented in America for thousands of years. "Our results cannot support the previous hypothesis that clade B has an American origin," the authors write.

A microRNA called miRNA-205 may offer clues to disease trajectory and survival patterns in individuals with endometrioid endometrial cancer, according to another paper in PLOS One. Investigators from Poland used real-time quantitative RT-PCR to assess miRNA expression in 100 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue samples, looking for expression shifts corresponding to clinical outcomes and tumor features. The analysis indicated that tumors with enhanced miRNA-205 expression are somewhat less aggressive and seem to coincide with better-than-usual survival outcomes.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.