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This Week in Science: Feb 3, 2017

In this week's Science, a team led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences reports new details about a set of rice genes that promotes resistance to a key pathogen without compromising yield. One gene, called PigmR, was previously found to confer resistance to the fungal disease rice blast, but if expressed during seed development it significantly reduces yield. However, when another gene called PigmS is co-expressed, it interferes with the resistance properties of PigmR. The researchers discovered a strain of rice plants in which PigmR was globally expressed, but PigmS expression was limited to reproductive tissue, giving the plant robust resistance to rice blast without affecting yield. They also identified amino acids involved in blocking PigmR function. Taken together, the findings could help in efforts to improve this economically important crop, the researchers say.

Meanwhile, in Science Advances, researchers from the UK publish a study demonstrating that Neolithic East Asians were genetically very similar to modern-day people from the same region. The investigators sequenced genetic samples taken from the remains of two ancient female hunter-gatherers discovered in a cave on the border of Russia and Korea, then compared the results to a panel of modern Eurasian and previously reported ancient genomes. One group of modern-day people, who live close to the cave, showed a high degree of genetic similarity to the hunter-gatherers. Further analysis indicated that the ancient women were closely related to ancestral Japanese and Korean populations. GenomeWeb has more on this, here.