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This Week in Science: Feb 10, 2017

In Science this week, a team of Canadian and Mexican researchers publish a study suggesting that gene duplication may not always offer cells protection from genetic perturbations, but can sometimes make them more susceptible to such disturbances. The team examined 56 pairs of duplicated yeast proteins, mapping out their protein-protein interactions. They discovered that while many gene duplicates were compensatory — with one gene taking over important functions if the other was disabled — just as many pairs were dependent, with each gene requiring the other's presence to maintain their interactions. Similar findings were made in four human cell lines, indicating that the increased fragility of gene duplicates isn't limited to yeast.

Also in Science, researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report the identification of enzymes excreted by the microbiome that help to process human amino acids. The investigators looked at microbiome samples from 378 participants from the Human Microbiome Project, separating the samples into superfamilies based on their genomes and then subcategorizing them based on their predicted protein function. They found an enzyme that helps process L-proline, an amino acid that facilitates the biosynthesis of proteins, and an enzyme involved in the production of an anaerobic short-chain fatty acid. The results provide new insights into microbiome chemistry and provide a workflow for the discovery of additional enzymes in microbial communities.