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This Week in PNAS: Jan 29, 2019

Yale School of Medicine researchers report on a role for the Fanconi anemia protein FANCI in ribosome biogenesis. With the help of sub-cellular fractionation, co-immunoprecipitation, antibody labeling, and other approaches, the team showed that the FANCI protein turns up in the cell's nucleolus, where it appears to contribute to pre-ribosomal RNA transcription and processes. "Our results expand the functions of FANCI to encompass ribosome biogenesis and DNA repair," the authors write, "highlighting the importance of future investigations into the role of other [Fanconi anemia] proteins in synthesizing ribosomes."

Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan present a machine learning-based approach for identifying genes capable of producing lineage-specific metabolites, using the plant model organism Arabidopsis thaliana to demonstrate the strategy. After characterizing the sequence conservation, expression, network, and other features in a subset of specialized metabolic enzymes compared to general metabolic contributors, the team incorporated more than 10,200 distinguishing features into a specialized metabolism gene prediction model that subsequently highlighted 1,220 previously unappreciated specialized metabolism genes in A. thaliana.

A University of Texas-led team explores the function of small interfering RNAs in developing A. thaliana seeds. Using laser-capture microdissection and small RNA sequencing, the researchers characterized siRNAs in the endosperm and seed coat of A. thaliana seeds produced by crossing plants with a mutant copy of an RNA polymerase subunit-coding gene called NRPD1 — previously implicated in Arabidopsis seed siRNA biogenesis. In the process, they found four sets of siRNA loci, including siRNA that depended on the presence of maternal NRPD1 and/or targeted specific transcription factors. From these and other results, the authors suggest that it may be possible to improve seed production and crop yield by focusing on siRNA-mediated gene expression.