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This Week in PNAS: Jan 16, 2018

A Danish-led team describes results from genome sequencing study of half-a-dozen different species of Aspergillus fungus — an effort aimed at getting a clearer look at everything from virulence to bioactive secondary metabolite genetics in the diverse genus. After sequencing A. campestris, A. novofumigatus, A. ochraceoroseus, A. steynii, A. taichungensis, and A. candidus species, the researchers compared them with available sequences from several Aspergillus genomes sequenced previously, uncovering gene clusters with apparent ties to the production of toxins and other more beneficial secondary metabolites with potential antibiotic or anticancer properties. The results so far suggest still more secondary metabolites and evolutionary clues will likely be unearthed in the course of an ongoing 1K fungal genomes project, according to the authors. 

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute and elsewhere outline apparent ties between the inactivation of an I-kappa-B kinase (IKK)-alpha and lung adenocarcinoma. Prior studies suggest IKK-alpha activity may thwart the development of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, the team notes. To explore its potential effects on lung adenocarcinoma, the investigators followed the effects of IKK-alpha loss in the lungs of a mouse model. Together with other cell biology experiments, the gene knockdown results pointed to a role for IKK-alpha in staunching reactive oxygen species accumulation via the NRF2 and NOX2 pathways. Because mutations that activate KRAS often lead to IKK-alpha loss, apparently hastening adenocarcinoma development and progression, the authors argue that "[r]estoration of IKK-alpha activity or inhibition of pathways activated on its loss may offer new opportunities for [adenocarcinoma] treatment."

Finally, a team led by investigators at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, sees genetic similarities between friends and classmates in a study of some more than 5,000 adolescent Americans. Using survey-based friendship data and genotyping information for participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, the researchers picked up signs of what they call the "social genome." Not only were friends and school chums genetically similar, the authors suggest, but these genome-wide similarities seemed to stretch to trait-associated loci influencing everything from body mass index to educational attainment.