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This Week in Science: Oct 21, 2016

In Science this week, researchers from the University of New Mexico and Aarhus University present data showing that bird species with hemoglobin suited for high altitudes evolved this trait independently. The team analyzed genetic mutations in the hemoglobin of 28 species of birds that live in either high or low altitudes. They found that while the high-flying birds all had mutations resulting in hemoglobin with high affinity for oxygen, the molecular mechanisms underlying these mutations varied. Further, the researchers tested the effects of one such mutation — common to hummingbirds and one species of flowerpiercers — when it was introduced into the reconstructed hemoglobin of their respective ancestors and found that it had no effect. This suggests that there are other genetic differences in how the particular mutation is expressed, the researchers say.

And in Science Translational Medicine, a team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reports on the use of a high-throughput chemical screen to identify a potential new drug to specifically target colorectal cancer cells harboring a certain mutation. In testing, the compound killed cancer cells with mutations in the tumor suppressor adenomatous polyposis coli while sparing healthy and other cancer cells. Notably, about 80 percent of colorectal cancer patients have such mutations and there is currently no targeted treatments available for them.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.