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This Week in PNAS: Jan 20, 2015

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, researchers from the US and Canada considered potential ties between human population genetics and linguistic patterns around the world. By bringing together microsatellite variation genotypes for almost 250 human populations with so-called phoneme data representing 2,082 language groups, the team determined that both genetic and language differences between various human populations vary in a manner that reflects their geographic distance from one another. "Similar axes of human geographic differentiation can be inferred from genetic data and phoneme inventories," the study's authors write. "[H]owever, geographic isolation does not necessarily lead to the loss of phonemes."

A team from the US and Sweden describes a forward genetic approach and accompanying software called Linkage Analyzer that are aimed at narrowing in on causative mutations behind a given phenotype in mutant mice. The researchers validated their phenotypic screening, genotype profiling, and computational method using more than 15,000 mutant mice belonging to 610 different pedigrees, identifying immune-related mutations in hundreds of genes with known or newly proposed roles in immunity. The approach involves taking a statistical look at phenovariance, the authors say, "facilitating the detection of incompletely penetrant phenotypes and precluding biased interpretations of phenotypic data by the human observer."

Finally, University of California, Riverside, researchers report on a role for the microRNA miR-8 in regulating female Aedes aegypti mosquito reproduction in response to blood feeding via interactions with the Wingless signaling pathway. Based on prior findings showing a jump in miR-8 expression in the fat body of female mosquitos following a blood meal, the team decided to use quantitative real-time PCR to track miR-8 expression over time in female mosquitos. Results from these and other experiments indicated that miR-8 regulates Wingless signaling in female fat body tissue in a manner than ultimately impacts egg development after a blood meal.