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This Week in Science: Dec 12, 2014

In Science this week, an international team of researchers reports on the genome sequences of 45 species of birds, creating the most comprehensive avian tree of life to date. The multi-year effort analyzed the genomes of at least one bird from every major bird lineage and, taken together, the findings show how the earliest branches on the avian tree diverged and offer insights into the evolution of avian sex chromosomes, vocal learning in birds and humans, and the evolutionary pressures that led to birds losing their teeth. The results of the effort also point a period of rapid bird evolution in the millions of years that followed the extinction of dinosaurs, and suggest that the earliest common ancestor of land birds such as parrots and hawks was an apex predator. A review article also covers recent progress in tracing bird evolution from theropod dinosaurs, examining research in developmental biology and functional anatomy in the context of the paleontological record to show how key features of birds originated and evolved from their dinosaur forebears. GenomeWeb has more on these bird genome studies here.  

Also in Science, a team from the University of Utah provides new details about the ongoing battle between primates and bacteria for nutritional iron, focusing on the iron-binding protein transferrin. While many species of bacteria have developed a molecular receptor capable of taking iron out of transferrin, the researchers say that transferrin in primates has evolved to contain to contain single substitutions to evade bacterial iron-swiping receptors, demonstrating a "central role for nutritional immunity in the persistent evolutionary conflicts between primates and bacterial pathogens."

The Scan

Genome Sequences Reveal Range Mutations in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Researchers in Nature Genetics detect somatic mutation variation across iPSCs generated from blood or skin fibroblast cell sources, along with selection for BCOR gene mutations.

Researchers Reprogram Plant Roots With Synthetic Genetic Circuit Strategy

Root gene expression was altered with the help of genetic circuits built around a series of synthetic transcriptional regulators in the Nicotiana benthamiana plant in a Science paper.

Infectious Disease Tracking Study Compares Genome Sequencing Approaches

Researchers in BMC Genomics see advantages for capture-based Illumina sequencing and amplicon-based sequencing on the Nanopore instrument, depending on the situation or samples available.

LINE-1 Linked to Premature Aging Conditions

Researchers report in Science Translational Medicine that the accumulation of LINE-1 RNA contributes to premature aging conditions and that symptoms can be improved by targeting them.