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This Week in Science: Jan 20, 2017

In Science this week, an international team of scientists describes a metagenomic-based technique that generated models of 614 previously known protein family structures. Despite technological advances, there are about 5,200 protein families with unknown structures outside the range of comparative modeling. To address this knowledge gap, the investigators combined metagenomic data with calculations that predict protein structure based on residue interaction. They used the method to confirm the structure of 27 already known protein families, improving accuracy in 14 cases, while reducing accuracy in only one. They then used it to generate models of 614 protein families with unknown structures, of which about 140 represent new protein folds.

And in Science Translational Medicine, a multi-institute research team reports a new approach for monitoring the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies. Cancer treatments that use engineered CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) to harness a patient's immune system against the disease show great promise, but once they are administered it is difficult to know whether they have localized to a tumor or not. In their study, the investigators modified CTLs to take up a fluorescent marker, allowing them to monitor their location when given to a handful of patients being treated for high-grade gliomas. The researchers were able to track the CTLs cells as they migrated to malignant lesions, as well as other non-target locations. "Further optimization of this imaging approach for monitoring in vivo cell trafficking should greatly benefit various cell-based therapies for cancer," the researchers write.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.