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This Week in PNAS: Sep 8, 2015

In the early, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team from France took a look at genomic features found in a newly detected giant virus called Mollivirus sibericum that infects Acanthamoeba. The team's analyses suggest virus — detected in the same type of 30,000-year-old permafrost sample as that harboring another Acanthamoeba-infecting virus called Pithovirus sibericum — contains more than 500 protein-coding genes in its 651,000-base genome. When they compared all four known giant viruses with one another, the study's authors saw distinct virion structures, genome sizes, and replication patterns in each of the massive, recently unearthed viruses.

Using a metagenomic sequencing-base approach, researchers from Washington University and elsewhere follow the trajectory of gut virome communities in a dozen pairs of twin Malawian infants and children discordant for severe acute malnutrition. By comparing virus-like particle sequence patterns over time in malnourished individuals, their healthy twins, and eight more healthy identical or non-identical twin pairs, the team defined virome features associated with acute malnutrition and characterized the normal collections of viruses that appear and wane as children's gut microbiomes are established. "These age- and disease-discriminatory viruses may help define familial risk for childhood malnutrition," authors of the study write, "and provide a viral dimension for characterizing the developmental biology of our gut microbial 'organ.'"

Finally, Uppsala University's Mattias Jakobsson and colleagues from Sweden, Australia, and Spain describe genetic patterns identified in the remains of ancient farmers who lived in the Sierra de Atapuerca region of Spain between 3,500 years and 5,500 years ago. Based on low-coverage genome sequence for the four male and four female individuals named for the El Portalón cave where their remains were found, the team saw signs that the ancient Iberian farmers belonged to a larger early European farmer population that migrated to other parts of the continent, mixing with distinct local hunter-gatherer groups as they went. Among present-day populations, Spain's Basques appear to share closest genetic ties to the ancient El Portalón individuals. GenomeWeb has more on the study, here.