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This Week in Science: Jun 24, 2016

In this week's Science, a team from the University of Texas describes how an enzyme that enables retroviruses to incorporate their genomes into host cells can be modified to scan for errors in the DNA they create. Reverse transcriptases use an RNA template to generate double-stranded complementary DNA that can integrate into host genomes, but, unlike DNA polymerases, are not believed to be able to proofread these sequences. Using a variety of techniques, the researchers were able to synthesize an RT enzyme that can correct errors in the DNA-generation process, which they say may increase the precision of methods to study RNA transcripts produced by the genome. GenomeWeb has more on this here.

Also in Science, three Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers discuss the need for improved integration of engineering and physical, computational, and mathematical sciences with biomedical science. Despite the potential synergies between these disciplines, only three percent of principal scientists receiving National Institutes of Health funding have backgrounds in physics, biophysics, mathematics, engineering, or bioengineering, they note. They proposed a number of recommendations to accelerate the convergence of these scientific fields including an increase in federal funding for convergence programs and a shift in academic structures to promote educational and research collaboration.

Lastly, researchers from Washington University and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research review recent research on the relationship between malnutrition and impaired human gut microbiota. They point to studies linking childhood malnutrition with "immature" gut microbiota, as well as one showing that transplanting such microbiota into germ-free mice causes reduced lean body mass, altered bone growth, and led to metabolic abnormalities despite the animals not being malnourished. They also point to the need for further research into microbiota-directed therapeutics.

The Scan

Cancer Survival Linked to Mutational Burden in Pan-Cancer Analysis

A pan-cancer paper appearing in JCO Precision Oncology suggests tumor mutation patterns provide clues for predicting cancer survival that are independent of other prognostic factors.

Australian Survey Points to Public Support for Genetic Risk Disclosure in Relatives of At-Risk Individuals

A survey in the European Journal of Human Genetics suggests most adult Australians are in favor of finding out if a relative tests positive for a medically actionable genetic variant.

Study Links Evolution of Stony Coral Skeleton to Bicarbonate Transporter Gene

A PNAS paper focuses on a skeleton-related bicarbonate transporter gene introduced to stony coral ancestors by tandem duplication.

Hormone-Based Gene Therapy to Sterilize Domestic Cat

A new paper in Nature Communication suggests that gene therapy could be a safer alternative to spaying domestic cats.