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Vol. LXI, No. 10
May 15, 2009
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Digest

  An international consortium of researchers has published the genome of domestic cattle, the first livestock mammal to have its genetic blueprint sequenced and analyzed.  
  An international consortium of researchers has published the genome of domestic cattle, the first livestock mammal to have its genetic blueprint sequenced and analyzed.  

Analysis of Domestic Cattle Genome Sequence Published

An international consortium of researchers has published the genome of domestic cattle, the first livestock mammal to have its genetic blueprint sequenced and analyzed. The landmark research will bolster efforts to produce better beef and dairy products and lead to a better understanding of the human genome. The sequencing and analysis of the bovine genome was funded in part by U.S. Department of Agriculture components, which contributed about $10 million. Approximately $25 million was contributed to the project by the National Human Genome Research Institute. In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers from the Bovine Genome Sequencing Project estimate that the genome of the domestic cattle (Bos taurus) contains approximately 22,000 genes and shares about 80 percent of its genes with humans. The researchers also report that the organization of human chromosomes is closer to that of domestic cattle than to those of rats or mice. The analyses, which involved comparing the domestic cattle genome sequence to those of the human, dog, mouse, rat, opossum and platypus, provide critical insights into the structure and function of the human genome.

Risk of Autism Tied to Genes that Influence Brain Cell Connections

In three studies, including the most comprehensive study of autism genetics to date, investigators funded in part by NIH have identified common and rare genetic factors that affect the risk of autism spectrum disorders. The results point to the importance of genes that are involved in forming and maintaining the connections between brain cells. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) comprise a group of disorders with core symptoms that include social interaction problems, poor verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. These disorders range from severe (autism) to mild (Asperger’s syndrome) and in total affect some 1 in 150 American children, about three-quarters of whom are boys. Researchers theorize that the social parts of the brain are underdeveloped in ASD. “Previous studies have suggested that autism is a developmental disorder resulting from abnormal connections in the brain. These three studies suggest some of the genetic factors which might lead to abnormal connectivity,” said NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel. The studies were funded in part by NIMH, NINDS, NICHD, NIDCD and the National Center for Research Resources. The largest study, reported in Nature, involved more than 10,000 subjects, including individuals with ASD, their family members and other volunteers from across the U.S.

New Understanding of Dengue Virus Points Way to Possible Therapies for Dengue Fever

Doctors have no specific drugs to treat dengue fever, a viral illness spread by mosquitoes that sickens 50 million to 100 million people worldwide each year. Instead, the only treatments they can recommend for this painful and sometimes fatal illness (20,000 deaths globally each year) are fluids, rest and non-aspirin pain and fever reducers. Now, researchers have identified cellular components in mosquitoes and in humans that dengue virus uses to multiply inside these hosts after infecting them. Their findings could lead to the development of anti-dengue drugs that would inhibit one or more of these host factors, thus curtailing infection and the development of disease. NIAID funded the research, which was led by Dr. Mariano Garcia- Blanco of Duke University Medical Center and appeared in the Apr. 23 issue of the journal Nature. All viruses co-opt parts of the cells they invade, but dengue virus is believed to require many such host factors because it has very little of its own genetic material, says Garcia-Blanco. Yet only a handful of mosquito or human dengue virus host factors have been identified to date, he adds, because researchers lack the tools for determining the functions of mosquito genes. To overcome this barrier, researchers turned to a familiar lab animal, the fruit fly. Mosquitoes and fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) are closely related and researchers have multiple tools for determining Drosophila gene functions.—

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