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This Week in Science: Dec 21, 2018

In this week's Science, the journal announces the combination of technologies that enable the single-cell-based tracking of biological development as its 2018 Breakthrough of the Year winner. The winning technologies enable the isolation of thousands of intact cells from living organisms, the efficient sequencing of expressed genetic material in each cell, and the labeling of cells to reconstruct their relationships in space and time. "This year alone, papers detailed how a flatworm, a fish, a frog, and other organisms begin to make organs and appendages. And groups around the world are applying the techniques to study how human cells mature over a lifetime, how tissues regenerate, and how cells change in disease," according to Science. "The single-cell revolution is just starting."

In Science Translational Medicine, a team led by scientists from the University of Groningen publish a study of more than 1,700 individuals that reveals differences in gut microbiome composition and function in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They sequenced stool samples from 355 IBD patients, 412, IBS patients, and 1,025 controls, and find gut microbiota composition differences that could be used to distinguish the conditions from each other. They also uncover bacterial species associated with IBD and IBS, suggesting that probes directed at these species could complement fecal calprotectin measurements in diagnosing the disorders. 

And in Science Advances, an international research team reports a study showing the potential of genomic analysis to reveal the geographic origins of indigenous Aboriginal Australian remains. The scientists sequenced 10 nuclear genomes and 27 mitochondrial DNA genomes from pre-European Australian samples of known provenance and compared the data to the nuclear genomes of 100 modern Aboriginal Australians also of known provenance. They find that for almost all of the ancient nuclear genomes, the most closely related contemporary genome was from people currently living in the same geographic region. The results also suggest that if mitochondrial sequences were used in repatriation efforts in Australia, they would result in around 7 percent of remains being returned to the wrong Indigenous group. As a result, mitochondrial DNA alone is not appropriate for repatriation, the investigators state. GenomeWeb has more on this study, here.