Best from science journals: Why are platypus so weird?


Here are some of the most interesting research papers to have appeared in top science journals last week.

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Decoding platypus DNA

Published in Nature

Australia’s duck-billed platypus are the perfect example of weird – they lay eggs, nurse their young ones, are toothless with webbed feet, and most interestingly, have 10 sex chromosomes.

Belonging to an ancient group of mammals called monotremes, platypus have always confused scientists. Now, by mapping the complete genome of the mammal, researchers have answered a few questions about the species. The team explains that they are a mixture of mammals, birds and reptiles and have preserved many of their ancestors’ original features which help in adapting to the environment they live in.

Disease resistance

Published in Nature Plants

One particular type of rice plant grown in Zhejiang,China was found to be resistant to the plant pathogen Burkholderia plantarii. But how and why? Researchers who studied the seed of the plant found that a bacteria called Sphingomonas meloni that lived inside the seed helped the plant gain this resistance. The bacteria produce an acid called anthranilic acid which inhibits the pathogen thus saving the crop.

Pocket-sized DNA sequencer

Published in Nature Methods

Minion device. Credit: https://nanoporetech.com/
 

Weighing just 450gm and measuring 14cm, Oxford Nanopore Technologies’ MinION device has helped sequence DNA on the go. Now, using special molecular tags, a team from the University of British Columbia has reduced the error rate to less than 0.005%. “A beautiful thing about this method is that it is applicable to any gene of interest that can be amplified…it can be very useful in any field where the combination of high-accuracy and long-range genomic information is valuable, such as cancer research, human genetics and microbiome science,” writes Ryan Ziels, one of the authors of the study, in a release.

Drought trouble

Published in Nature Climate Change

By the late 21st century, the population facing extreme droughts could more than double – from 3% ( from 1976 to 2005) to 8% by 2099. The team notes that this could heighten human migration and conflict. The paper, based on 27 global climate-hydrological model simulations spanning 125 years, also stresses the urgent need for water resources management.

Mighty microalgae

Published in Cell Host & Microbe

Phytoplankton bloom in the Arabian Gulf, Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.

Phytoplankton bloom in the Arabian Gulf, Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.
 

Researchers have now found that viruses play an important role in microalgae evolution by whole-genome sequencing 107 different species of microalgae from different ecosystems. They compared the genomes of salt-water (marine) and fresh-water microalgae and found that the marine species contained more viral-origin genes. “Sequences from Chlorovirus, Coccolithovirus, Pandoravirus, Marseillevirus, Tupanvirus, and other viruses were found integrated into the genomes of algal from marine environments,” notes the paper.

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