Science  12 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6044, pp. 807
  1. The Mystery of the Missing Fingerprints


    In 2007, a Swiss woman in her late 20s trying to cross the U.S. border ran into a snag: When customs agents scanned her hands, they discovered she had no fingerprints.

    The woman had an extremely rare condition known as adermatoglyphia (ADG)—dubbed “immigration delay disease” by Peter Itin, a dermatologist at the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland. Nine members of the woman's extended family also lacked fingerprints, so Itin and his colleagues suspected that the cause might be genetic. The researchers compared the genomes of the family members with ADG with those of members who had normal fingerprints, and found differences in 17 regions close to genes. Then they sequenced these genes, expecting to identify the culprit.

    They didn't find anything in those sequences. But an online database of rare DNA transcripts from the suspect regions included one very short sequence that overlapped with part of a gene called SMARCAD1—a gene expressed only in the skin.

    When the researchers sequenced SMARCAD1, their suspicions were confirmed: The gene was mutated in the fingerprintless family members, but not in the other family members, the researchers reported 4 August in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

  2. Lab Chimps Aren't Scrooges

    It's long puzzled primatologists: In the wild, chimpanzees share food they catch, but in lab experiments they turn tight-fisted. Comparative psychologist Victoria Horner of Emory University in Atlanta thought she knew why: The experimental setups were just too confusing for the animals to behave naturally—“tables with pulley systems and whatnot.”

    With colleagues at Emory, Horner devised a new, “more chimpy” way to test the primates' generosity. They found that chimps trained to buy bananas with colored pieces of PVC pipe chose to get fruit for both themselves and a partner more often than not. The results, reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mean that this kind of generosity isn't a uniquely human trait, Horner says, and will help researchers study altruism in chimps and how it evolved.

  3. Lab-Grown Sperm Make Mice

    Scientists studying reproduction and fertility have long hoped that embryonic stem (ES) cells, which in theory can produce all of the body's cell types, could produce viable sperm and eggs. Now a Kyoto University group has turned mouse ES cells into sperm precursor cells—and the resulting sperm produced normal mouse pups.

    Mice from embryonic stem cell-derived sperm.


    Sperm and eggs develop from primordial germ cells in early stage embryos in a mass of cells called the epiblast. The researchers found a way to culture mouse ES cells to produce epiblastlike cells that they could keep alive for only several days. (Previous researchers had produced epiblast stem cells that could regenerate in a dish for long periods of time—but those cells seem to have lost their ability to form germ cells.) The 2-day-old cells, however, generated primordial germ cell–like cells that, when injected into the testes of mice unable to produce their own sperm, matured into sperm that could fertilize eggs in vitro. When implanted into surrogate mothers, the resulting embryos produced normal offspring, the researchers reported online 4 August in Cell.

    Such research may eventually lead to treatments for human male infertility. But that will require resolving several “very difficult” technical and ethical issues, says stem cell biologist Mitinori Saitou, leader of the Kyoto team.

  4. U.S. Women in Science Work for Less


    College-educated women with jobs in science and technology fields in the United States are paid 12% less than their male colleagues, according to a new government study. The good news, says Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, is that the gender pay differential is smaller than in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas. And it's the smallest—only 7 cents—in engineering, the field where women are historically the most underrepresented. But those caveats may not be much consolation to women who have earned the same degrees, have similar experience, and work in the same geographic area—factors that the Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistical Administration (ESA) took into account in doing its first-ever study of women in the STEM workforce. The 11-page analysis, using data from the 2009 American Community Survey, is available on the ESA Web site.

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