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Metastatic lung cancer. Light micrograph of a section through bowel tissue showing a secondary (metastatic) tumour.

A tumour of the bowel wall. A protocol for detecting trace amounts of tumour DNA in a blood sample could help to guide treatment of people with cancer. Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

Medical research

Ultra-sensitive test detects a whisper of tumour DNA

A tumour’s genomic fingerprint provides a way to track minute quantities of cancer DNA in a person’s bloodstream.

A genomic technique that detects minuscule quantities of tumour DNA in the blood could help to determine whether people who have had tumour-removal surgery are cancer-free or need further treatment.

Available tests do detect DNA that tumour cells shed into the bloodstream, but can miss low levels of cancer DNA in people whose tumours have largely been removed through surgery.

Dan Landau at the New York Genome Center in New York City and his colleagues sequenced the genomes of tumour and normal cells from people with cancer to create a ‘mutational fingerprint’ — a list of the mutations in each person’s tumour. Next, the researchers trained an algorithm to compare a fingerprint with DNA from a blood sample. The algorithm identified tumour DNA even when it comprised only 0.001% of the total DNA in the bloodstream.

The researchers tested this approach on people with colon or lung cancer who had had their tumours removed. Individuals positive for circulating tumour DNA after surgery tended to have a high risk of relapse, whereas none of those with a negative test showed cancer recurrence during the study follow-up period.

More Research Highlights...

Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty


Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty


A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
Auroras on Jupiter

Jupiter’s aurora glows blue in this composite image. A newly detected radio signal might be the signature of a similar aurora on a planet in another solar system. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols, Univ. Leicester

Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.
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