In this week's Science, an international research team reports the sequencing of ancient African genomes, shedding new light onto divergence in human populations. The scientists sequenced the genomes of three Stone Age hunter-gatherers and four Iron Age farmers who lived in what is now South Africa, then analyzed them and compared the data to various modern and archaic genomes from around the world. Their findings point to the first modern human population divergence occurring between 350,000 years and 260,000 years ago, which is consistent with the fossil record. GenomeWeb has more on this, here.
Also in Science, a group of US and Chinese investigators publishes data showing that a single mutation in the Zika virus is responsible for its ability to cause microcephaly. The researchers compared modern Zika virus strains from the 2015/2016 South American epidemics with an ancestral Cambodian virus that was circulating in 2010, identifying a one genetic mutation that conferred the ability to cause microcephaly in mouse models of fetal infection. The mutation also makes the virus more virulent in human neuron precursor cells, which is believed to have contributed to the increased incidence of microcephaly in recent epidemics.
And in Science Translational Medicine, scientists from the US, Europe, and South America describe a newly developed rapid test that can sensitively and specifically detect Zika virus and all four Dengue virus subtypes in serum without any detectable cross-reactivity. The immunochromatography-based test is expected to have immediate application in differential clinical diagnosis of acute Zika and Dengue cases, while the platform can be applied toward developing rapid antigen diagnostics for emerging viruses, the authors state. 360Dx also covers this, here.