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Scientists Discover 83 Genetic Mutations That Help Determine Your Height

DNAEver wonder how much of your height you inherited from your parents? A large-scale genetic study published recently in the journal Nature is helping shed some light on the factors that determine whether a person grows to be 6-feet-1 or 5-feet-2. While scientists already had a good idea of the most common genetic factors that contribute to height, the new findings uncover a number of rare genetic alterations that can play a surprisingly major role in human growth. Using data from the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits consortium (a group also known as GIANT), scientists from the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard analyzed genetic information from more than 700,000 people, discovering 83 DNA changes that play a part in determining a person’s height.

“Overall, common variants still contribute more to height than rare variants,” Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, the study’s lead author and a professor of pediatrics and genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told The Huffington Post. “But, for the person who happens to carry one of the rare variants, the impact can be much greater than for common variants. For the variants we looked at, this was up to almost an inch… as opposed to a millimeter or less for the common variants.”

According to the study’s authors, this method of testing rare genetic variants could be used to investigate uncommon DNA changes involved in other aspects of human health.

Read the full article here.

Important Information About the Federal and California Earned Income Tax Credit

In accordance with the Earned Income Tax Credit Information Act, the university includes a notice with all Form W-2 statements notifying employees that they may be eligible for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Please note below an important amendment to this required notice, notifying employees that they may also be eligible for the California EITC:

Based on your annual earnings, you may be eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit from the federal government (federal EITC). The federal EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families. The federal EITC has no effect on certain welfare benefits. In most cases, federal EITC payments will not be used to determine eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, low-income housing, or most Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments. Even if you do not owe federal taxes, you must file a federal tax return to receive the federal EITC. Be sure to fill out the federal EITC form in the federal income tax return booklet. For information regarding your eligibility to receive the federal EITC, including information on how to obtain the IRS Notice 797 or any other necessary forms and instructions, contact the Internal Revenue Service by calling 1-800-829-3676 or through its website at www.irs.gov.

You also may be eligible to receive the California Earned Income Tax Credit (California EITC) starting with the calendar year 2015 tax year. The California EITC is a refundable state income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families. The California EITC is treated in the same manner as the federal EITC and generally will not be used to determine eligibility for welfare benefits under California law. To claim the California EITC, even if you do not owe California taxes, you must file a California income tax return and complete and attach the California EITC form (FTB 3514). For information on the availability of the credit, eligibility requirements, and how to obtain the necessary California forms and get help filing, contact the Franchise Tax Board at 1-800-852-5711 or through its web site at www.ftb.ca.gov.

Relevant links:
UCOP notice: http://link.ucop.edu/2017/01/23/important-information-about-the-earned-income-tax-credit-and-your-w-2/
AB1847:  http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1847

A Better Carrier – New Gene-Delivery Therapy Restores Partial Hearing, Balance in Deaf Mice

Red-largeUsing a novel form of gene therapy, scientists from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have managed to restore partial hearing and balance in mice born with a genetic condition that affects both. The new model overcomes a long-standing barrier to accessing hair cells, the delicate sensors in the inner ear that capture sound and head movement and convert them to neural signals for hearing and balance. These cells have been notoriously difficult to treat with previous gene-delivery techniques. The team’s findings, published in the February issue of Molecular Therapy, show that the treatment leads to notable gains in hearing and allows mice that would normally be completely deaf to hear the equivalent of a loud conversation. The approach also improved the animals’ sense of balance.

Institute for Society and Genetics, In the News – Fearing Climate Change Databases May Be Threatened in Trump Era, UCLA Scientists Work to Protect Them

LA Times

On a rainy Inauguration Day morning, dozens of students, archivists, librarians, professors and other concerned citizens gathered in a UCLA classroom, poring over the Department of Energy website. They sifted through pages covering a broad spectrum of topics, from energy-efficient buildings and solar power to transportation and bioenergy. The goal of Friday’s workshop, which ran more than six hours: To protect publicly available climate data on government websites – data that some feared could be deleted or otherwise degraded by a new administration that has indicated its aversion to climate science.

“Climate change data is specifically under attack,” said Joan Donovan, a researcher with UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics who spoke on a panel at the event. “There are real stakes to doing the work we’re doing today.” Without good data, researchers said, you can’t make good policy. Scientific data, carefully taken over many decades, are essential for crafting a long-term strategy to deal with climate change. “I am not ‘post-truth’ and neither should you be,” Donovan told the attendees. “Today we are fighting a war of information.”

Read the full article here.

UC San Diego Biologists Unlock Code Regulating Most Human Genes

InitiatorMolecular biologists at UC San Diego have unlocked the code that initiates transcription and regulates the activity of more than half of all human genes, an achievement that should provide scientists with a better understanding of how human genes are turned on and off. The discovery of this critical DNA sequence code—what molecular biologists term the “human Initiator”—is detailed in a paper in the February 10 print issue of the journal Genes & Development. An advance copy of the paper is now online.

Read the full article here.

Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Awards $1M to 8 Research Projects

The UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge awarded its second round of competitive research grants this month, providing $1 million to eight new projects led by UCLA researchers who will study self-driving cars, improve ways to capture and distribute solar power, map wild mammals in urban L.A., and more.

The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge is a university-wide research initiative to transition the Los Angeles region to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent local water, and an enhanced ecosystem and human health by 2050. This second annual round of research grants awarded by Sustainable LA focuses on renewable energy, transportation and urban ecosystems.

The competitive grants are possible thanks to the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation, which provides funding for this Grand Challenge, including research that will implement the Sustainable LA Work Plan. Their generous $5 million gift is supporting at least three rounds of similar grants from 2016 to 2018.

ISG is pleased to announce that Jessica Lynch Alfaro (PI, ISG), together with Tony Friscia (IBP), Jamie Lloyd-Smith (EEB), Chris Kelty (ISG), and Katherine Prager (EEB) has been awarded a UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Grant of $225,000 for the project, “Urban Ecology of Los Angeles Mammals: Biodiversity, Pathogen Risks, and Public Perceptions.”

Read the full article here.

Zika-linked Birth Defects More Extensive Than Previously Thought, UCLA-led Research Finds

New UCLA-led research finds that Zika-linked abnormalities that occur in human fetuses are more extensive — and severe — than previously thought, with 46 percent of 125 pregnancies among Zika-infected women resulting in birth defects in newborns or ending in fetal death. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that damage during fetal development from the mosquito-borne virus can occur throughout pregnancy and that other birth defects are more common than microcephaly, when babies are born with very small heads. Further, these defects may only be detected weeks or months after the baby is born, said Dr. Karin Nielsen, the study’s senior author and a professor of clinical pediatrics in the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Mattel Children’s Hospital. “This means that microcephaly is not the most common congenital defect from the Zika virus,” Nielsen said. The absence of that condition does not mean the baby will be free of birth defects, she added, because “there are problems that are not apparent at birth” and such difficulties may not be evident until the age of six months.

The new study was based on a larger sample size of 345 women in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who were enrolled from September 2015 through May 2016. Of those women, 182, or 53 percent, tested positive for Zika in the blood, urine or both. In addition, 42 percent of the women who did not have Zika were found to be infected with chikungunya, another mosquito-borne virus; 3 percent of Zika-positive women also had chikungunya.

Read the full article here.

Seahorses are Weird, and Their Genome Knows Why

seahorseMale pregnancy. A long, tube-shaped mouth with no teeth. A body covered with bony plates. These are the odd, quintessential features of seahorses, but why? Scientists dove into this question on Wednesday by publishing the first complete sequence of a seahorse genome. “We have discovered an array of changes in the genome, which helps to explain why the seahorse looks the way it does,” said Byrappa Venkatesh, a study co-author and molecular biologist with the Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. What they found explains many of the creature’s oddities. For instance, seahorses are missing “P/Q-rich SCPP” genes, which cause minerals to collect into teeth. This toothy void may explain why seahorses develop their narrow, straw-like mouths.

Read the full article here.