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Researchers identify genetics behind deadly oat blight

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ITHACA, N.Y. – A multi-institution team co-led by a Cornell University researcher has identified the genetic mechanisms that enable the production of a deadly toxin called Victorin – the causal agent for Victoria blight of oats, a disease that wiped out oat crops in the U.S. in the 1940s.
Victoria blight is caused by the fungus Cochliobolus victoriae, which produces the Victorin toxin, but until now no one has uncovered the genes and mechanisms involved.
“The oat varieties favored by farmers in the 1940s were resistant to Crown Rust disease, but scientists later discovered this was the very trait that made those oat varieties susceptible to Victoria blight because the Victorin toxin was targeting that specific plant protein,” said co-senior author Gillian Turgeon, professor and chair of the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). “Unearthing the molecules involved in this fungus-plant interaction is fundamental to our understanding of how plants respond to attack by diverse microbes.”
Most fungal toxins are synthesized by large, multi-functional enzymes, and the small peptides created by these enzymes include both toxins and medicines, such as the antibiotic penicillin. But Turgeon and co-author Heng Chooi, a researcher at the University of Western Australia, discovered the Victorin toxin is actually synthesized directly in the ribosome, which is an organelle in cells that makes most proteins. These small molecules produced in ribosomes are known as ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified …

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FDA approves first treatment for a rare genetic disorder

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Reviewed by Emily Henderson, B.Sc.Nov 23 2020
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Oxlumo (lumasiran) as the first treatment for primary hyperoxaluria type 1 (PH1), a rare genetic disorder. This approval is a cumulation of the work of experts and community members coordinated by the Oxalosis & Hyperoxaluria Foundation and the Kidney Health Initiative.    


The approval of Oxlumo represents a great triumph of community involvement to address a rare disease. It is a result of input from patients, treating physicians, experts and sponsors at a patient-focused drug development meeting and through other collaborative efforts.”

Norman Stockbridge, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Division of Cardiology and Nephrology in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research


Primary hyperoxalurias (PHs) are caused by excess production of oxalate, a substance consumed in food and also produced by the body. PH1 is the most common and severe type. PH1 affects an estimated one to three individuals per million in North America and Europe and accounts for approximately 80% of PH cases.

Patients with PH1 produce far too much oxalate, which can combine with calcium to cause kidney stones and deposits in the kidneys. Patients can experience progressive kidney damage, which can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis (a treatment that purifies the blood). As kidney function worsens, oxalate can build up and damage other organs, including the heart, bones and eyes.

Oxlumo works to decrease oxalate production. It was evaluated in two studies in patients with PH1: a randomized, …

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Genetics behind deadly oat blight

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A multi-institution team co-led by a Cornell University researcher has identified the genetic mechanisms that enable the production of a deadly toxin called Victorin — the causal agent for Victoria blight of oats, a disease that wiped out oat crops in the U.S. in the 1940s.
Victoria blight is caused by the fungus Cochliobolus victoriae, which produces the Victorin toxin, but until now no one has uncovered the genes and mechanisms involved.
“The oat varieties favored by farmers in the 1940s were resistant to Crown Rust disease, but scientists later discovered this was the very trait that made those oat varieties susceptible to Victoria blight because the Victorin toxin was targeting that specific plant protein,” said co-senior author Gillian Turgeon, professor and chair of the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). “Unearthing the molecules involved in this fungus-plant interaction is fundamental to our understanding of how plants respond to attack by diverse microbes.”
Most fungal toxins are synthesized by large, multi-functional enzymes, and the small peptides created by these enzymes include both toxins and medicines, such as the antibiotic penicillin. But Turgeon and co-author Heng Chooi, a researcher at the University of Western Australia, discovered the Victorin toxin is actually synthesized directly in the ribosome, which is an organelle in cells that makes most proteins. These small molecules produced in ribosomes are known as ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptides, or RiPPs.
This …

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Making sense of a universe of corn genetics

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Seed banks across the globe store and preserve the genetic diversity of millions of varieties of crops. This massive collection of genetic material ensures crop breeders access to a wealth of genetics with which to breed crops that yield better or resist stress and disease.
But, with a world of corn genetics at their disposal, how do plant breeders know which varieties are worth studying and which ones aren’t? For most of history, that required growing the varieties and studying their performance in the real world. But innovative data analytics and genomics could help plant breeders predict the performance of new varieties without having to go to the effort of growing them.
Jianming Yu, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University and the Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding, has devoted much of his research to “turbo charging” the seemingly endless amount of genetic stocks contained in the world’s seed banks. Yu and his colleagues have published an article in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, a scientific publication, that details their latest efforts to predict traits in corn based on genomics and data analytics.
Plant breeders searching for varieties to test might feel lost in a sea of genomic material. Yu said applying advanced data analytics to all those genomes can help breeders narrow down the number of varieties they’re interested in much faster and more efficiently.
“We’re always searching for the best genetic combinations, and we search the various combinations to see what varieties we want to test,” said …

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Many scientists believe that DNA holds the cure for disease. That poses a problem for some Native Americans.

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On a clear and icy morning in February of this year, I picked up Rene Begay from the Albuquerque airport. We headed west toward the Navajo Nation reservation, the largest tribal land base in the United States, spanning 27,500 square miles between Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Begay, a 31-year-old Navajo scientist with a background in genetic research, spent her childhood in various towns throughout the reservation. She’d just flown in from Denver, where she works as a research assistant at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She wore a blue velveteen blouse — a garment customarily worn by Navajo women — and jeans. “Something traditional and something modern,” she said. Our first stop would be Chinle, Ariz., a town of about 5,000 people, where Begay’s mother lives. The two are very close, and Begay flies down from Denver as often as possible to visit. As we exited the Albuquerque city limits, Begay told me I could turn off the GPS; she’d direct me the rest of the way. The landscape grew flatter and redder as we approached the border of the Navajo Nation. “It always feels good to be coming home,” she said. After investigating the causes of hereditary heart disease for her master’s project, Begay dreamed of using genetic insights to better understand cardiovascular health in her community. Given that Native American adults are 50 percent more likely to be affected by obesity than non-Hispanic whites, and twice …

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Coppery titi monkeys do not deceive their partners

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Since methods for genetic paternity analyses were introduced it became clear that many pair-living animal species, including humans, do not take partnership fidelity that seriously. In most species there is some proportion of offspring that is not sired by their social father. Coppery titi monkeys living in the Amazon lowland rainforest seem to be an exception. Scientists from the German Primate Center (DPZ) — Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen could not find evidence for extra-pair paternity in their study population in Peru. Mate choice seems to be so successful that a potential genetic advantage does not outweigh the social costs of infidelity (Scientific Reports).
Offspring resulting from extra-pair copulations but raised by the social partner are surprisingly common in pair-living species. Various reasons are discussed for this behavior. For instance, mate choice is often limited and sometimes it only turns out later that the chosen partner is not the genetically best one. In order to ensure the best possible genes for your own children, you may use the genes of a neighbor or a floating male without giving up the security of your own territory and the caring social father.
Coppery titi monkeys live in small family-groups, consisting of male, female and offspring, who defend a territory. Usually, a single infant is born per year, that leaves the group when it reaches sexual maturity or shortly after and searches a partner, with whom it occupies an own territory. The pair-partners maintain a strong relationship, spend day and …

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In the Cerrado, topography explains the genetic diversity of amphibians more than land cover

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IMAGE: Study shows that a tree frog endemic to a mountainous region of the Brazilian savanna is unable to disperse and find genetically closer mates when the terrain is rugged, potentially…
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Credit: Renato C. Nali

The savanna tree frog Bokermannohyla ibitiguara is about 4 cm long and is found only in gallery forest along streams in the Serra da Canastra mountain range in the state of Minas Gerais, Southeast Brazil. In this watery forest environment, it can grow, feed, mate, and lay eggs without needing to range very far throughout its life cycle, according to a study published in Diversity and Distributions.
According to the Brazilian and US researchers who conducted the study, topography rather than vegetation is the main factor leading to more or less dispersal of the species in the territory, and this information is even recorded in its DNA.
They analyzed genetic variation among groups of B. ibitiguara living inside and outside the Serra da Canastra National Park, a protected area in the region, discovering that the flatter the terrain, the more genetically diverse is the population.
In areas of highly variable elevation, individuals are genetically similar. In evolutionary terms, this can be harmful to the species, which becomes more susceptible to disease and climate change, for example.
“Genetic analysis and conservation studies typically take land cover into account, among other factors, but the Cerrado [Brazilian savanna] is topographically diverse, including montane regions with high plateaus [chapadões] separated by low areas. We set out to …

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Novel targeted therapy blocks metabolic pathways in cancer cells with specific genetic defects

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Reviewed by Emily Henderson, B.Sc.Nov 23 2020
Researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have developed a novel targeted therapy, called POMHEX, which blocks critical metabolic pathways in cancer cells with specific genetic defects. Preclinical studies found the small-molecule enolase inhibitor to be effective in killing brain cancer cells that were missing ENO1, one of two genes encoding the enolase enzyme.

The study results, published today in Nature Metabolism, provide proof of principle for a treatment strategy known as collateral lethality, in which an important protein is lost through genetic deletion as a bystander near a tumor suppressor gene, and a redundant protein is blocked therapeutically.


Collateral lethality could expand the scope of precision oncology beyond activated oncogenes, and allow targeting of genomic deletions, largely considered un-actionable. Our work provides proof of principle that this approach can actually work with a drug in animal models.”

Florian Muller, Ph.D., corresponding author, assistant professor of Cancer Systems Imaging and Neuro-Oncology


Enolase is an essential enzyme involved in glycolysis, a metabolic pathway that is elevated in many cancers to fuel their increased cell growth. Two genes, ENO1 and ENO2, encode slightly different but redundant versions of enolase, and several cancers, such as glioblastoma, are missing the ENO1 gene because of chromosomal loss. This leaves the cancer cells with only ENO2 to continue glycolysis, making them highly sensitive to enolase inhibitors, Muller explained.

Therapies that target both forms of enolase have previously been developed, but blocking ENO1 can have unwanted …

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Ag Scientists Express Concern About Lack of Genetic Diversity in Holstein Dairy Cows

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Pennsylvania is home to roughly 5,730 dairy farms and a half million dairy cows. The majority of those dairy cows are Holsteins, with artificial insemination providing genetic enhancements to farmers who want to increase milk production. Indeed, many of the advances in production have resulted from use of sires with proven production benefits.Holsteins produce most of the milk we drink and that is manufactured into other dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt and cheese. Effective breeding practices have resulted in drastically increased production. For example, in 1950 one dairy cow produced about 5,300 pounds of milk a year. Today, the average Holstein can produce 23,000 pounds per year, according to Scientific American.Recently, some agricultural scientists have expressed concern with what the focus on milk production may have done to other inherent traits of Holstein sires.

Dr. Chad Dechow, associate professor of dairy cattle genetics at Penn State, conducted research on the effects of breeding to enhance certain traits that, over time, could eliminate others.Research published in 2015 revealed some alarming information.Of all the Holstein bulls in the United States, more than 99% of them can be traced to just two bulls, both born in the 1960s. Dechow and others stated that female Holsteins haven’t fared much better, noting that if Holsteins were wild animals they would be characterized as an endangered species.I know that dairy farmers today have much more to be concerned about, like staying in business, than worrying about genetic sameness, but basic biology tells us that …

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New undesirable genetic factor identified in Jersey breed

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A new undesirable genetic factor, known as Jersey Neuropathy with Splayed Forelimbs (JNS), has been identified in the Jersey breed, according to the American Jersey Cattle Assn. (AJCA). The AJCA board of directors was made aware and discussed the results of the investigation at the November board meetings in Louisville, Ky.

Calves affected with JNS are unable to stand on splayed forelimbs that exhibit significant extensor rigidity and/or excessive lateral abduction at birth, AJCA said. Affected calves are generally bright at birth but exhibit neurologic symptoms, including spasticity of head and neck and convulsive behavior. Other symptoms reported include dislocated shoulders, congenital craniofacial anomalies and degenerative myelopathy.

According to AJCA, JNS is attributable to a specific haplotype on Bos taurus autosome 6 (BTA6) of genotyped Jerseys, and fewer than 6% of the genotyped Jersey population are carriers of the haplotype, meaning 94% of the genotyped population is free of the JNS haplotype.

The official JNS haplotype status was reported to AJCA by the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), which will incorporate the JNS haplotype status into its standard data formats provided to industry cooperators after Jan. 1, 2021.

On Nov. 20, AJCA updated the animal database with the carriers identified by CDCB through genotyping. As required by AJCA policy, breeders, owners and lessees will receive notification of designated carriers of JNS. AJCA staff has started the process of contacting individuals affected by the animals identified with the JNS haplotype. A complete list of carrier bulls, with corresponding NAAB codes, will be included in the …

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