Seven scientists win the 2017 Gairdner Awards

Seven researchers have each been awarded a 2017 Gairdner Award for seminal work in areas including child nutrition and treatment for cardiovascular disease.

Cesar Victora, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, has won the 2017 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award for his work on maternal and child health in developing countries.

When Victora graduated from medical school in 1976, he went to work in community health in a slum in Porto Allegre, Brazil. He saw a lot of malnutrition, diarrhoea, and other infectious diseases, and the same children kept coming back. “I was treating disease episodes, but these kids remained vulnerable, and many ended up dying”, he tells The LancetRead more in The Lancet.

Chimps and bonobos interbred and exchanged genes

Chimpanzees and their relatives bonobos are closer than we thought. Bonobos seem to have donated genes to chimps at least twice in the roughly two million years since they last shared an ancestor.

The two closely related apes have occasionally interbred in captivity, and bonobos are renowned for their free and easy sex life. But the finding that they interbred in the wild was unexpected. Read more in New Scientist.

Smallest perching bird’s long-lost family revealed by genetics

The pygmy bushtit’s diminutive size makes it a superlative species, and it has a genus all to itself. But now genetics is showing that it’s not so special after all.

The pygmy bushtit isn’t much to look at. It’s an inconspicuous dull grey, but it is absolutely tiny. So small in fact, that it is the smallest member of the Passeriformes, or perching birds, an order that encompasses more than half of all bird species including sparrows, finches and chickadees. Read more in New Scientist.

UCL geneticist faces questions over image duplication

An ongoing investigation by University College London, UK, has found problems with eight papers by renowned British geneticist David Latchman.

An internal university investigation of work by David Latchman, a well known professor of genetics at University College London (UCL) and the Master of Birkbeck College, UK, has resulted in at least one retraction and two corrections over problems with image duplication and manipulation.

A 2002 article by Latchman in the Journal of Biological Chemistry was retracted on Jan 16, with just the cryptic notice: “This article has been withdrawn by the authors.” Read more in The Lancet.

Fungi borrowed bacterial gene again and again

Multiple independent gene transfers gave fungi ability to colonize plant roots.

A single gene from bacteria has been donated to fungi on at least 15 occasions. The discovery shows that an evolutionary shortcut once thought to be restricted to bacteria is surprisingly common in more complex, eukaryotic life.

Bacteria frequently trade genes back and forth with their neighbours, gaining abilities and traits that enable them to adapt quickly to new environments. More complex organisms, by contrast, generally have to make do with the slow process of gene duplication and mutation. Read more in Nature.

Pests worm their way into genetically modified maize

Broadening of rootworm resistance to toxins highlights the importance of crop rotation.

Even with biotech crops, farmers still need to make use of age-old practices such as crop rotation to fight insect pests. That’s the lesson to be drawn from the latest discovery of resistance to the pest-fighting toxins added to maize — also known as corn.

According to a team led by Aaron Gassmann, an entomologist at Iowa State University in Ames, in some Iowa fields a type of beetle called the western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte) has developed resistance to two of the three types of Bacillus thurinigiensis (Bt) toxin produced by genetically modified maize. Resistance to one type of Bt toxin has cropped up in the worms in recent years, but now there is a twist — the researchers have found that resistance to that type of Bt toxin also confers protection against another, more recently introduced type. Read more in Nature.

New contender for ‘fat gene’ found

Researchers may have been focusing on the wrong gene.

Scientists studying what they thought was a ‘fat gene’ seem to have been looking in the wrong place, according to research published today in Nature. It suggests instead that the real culprit is another gene that the suspected obesity gene interacts with.

In 2007, several genome studies identified mutations in a gene called FTO that were strongly associated with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans. Subsequent studies in mice showed a link between the gene and body mass. So researchers, including Marcelo Nóbrega, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, thought that they had found a promising candidate for a gene that helped cause obesity. Read more in Nature.

The single life

Sequencing DNA from individual cells is changing the way that researchers think of humans as a whole.

All Nicholas Navin needed was one cell — the issue was how to get it. It was 2010, and the postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York was exploring the genetic changes that drive breast cancer. Most of the cancer-genome studies before then had ground up bits of tumour tissue and sequenced the DNA en masse, giving a consensus picture of the cancer’s genome. But Navin wanted to work out the sequence from individual cells to see how they had mutated and diverged as the cancer grew.

He ran into trouble almost immediately. Read more in Nature.