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This Week in PNAS: Dec 11, 2018

In the early, online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the US, Ireland, and South Africa explore the evolution of relatively light skin pigmentation in the indigenous KhoeSan in southern Africa. Using high-throughput targeted sequencing, together with phenotypic information on 430 Khomani San or Nama individuals from communities in South Africa, the team narrowed in on a derived causal allele in SLC4A5, a gene implicated in light skin pigmentation in Europeans, that appears to have undergone a selective sweep and strong adaptation in the KhoeSan populations since being introduced to the region during a back-to-Africa migration roughly 2,000 years ago. 

A Stanford University-led team searches for host and viral biomarkers for disease progression in individuals infected with dengue virus (DENV). Using "virus-inclusive single-cell RNA sequencing" (viscRNA-seq), the researchers assessed more than 13,000 individual, cell sorted peripheral blood mononuclear cells from two uncomplicated DENV cases, four DENV-infected individuals with disease progression, and four uninfected controls, uncovering potential predictive biomarkers as well as the activation of specific immune cell types. "This multifaceted approach could advance understanding of pathogenesis of any viral infection, map an atlas of infected cells, and promote the development of prognostics," the authors write.

Researchers from Murdoch University and elsewhere explore the evolution and genetic diversity of quality-related proteins in populations of wild emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides), a presumed progenitor of tetraploid or hexaploid wheat crop plants. The team used chromosome mapping, targeted sequencing, expression analyses, and other approaches to assess the allelic diversity of avenin-like protein (ALP)-coding genes — known for their role in dough quality and fungal susceptibility in bread wheat — in 21 wild emmer wheat populations from sites across the plant's natural range in the Upper Galilee Mountains and Golan Heights. From their results, the authors note that wild emmer wheat "harbors a high genetic diversity of ALPs utilizable for wheat improvement."