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Week in Review: March 24–28

Synthetic yeast chromosome; human enhancers and promoters mapped; brain-wide map links fly behaviors to neurons; treating eye diseases with nanotechnology

By | March 28, 2014

Tailor-made eukaryotic chromosome

FLICKR, RISING DAMPNew York University Langone Medical Center’s Jef Boeke and colleagues presented SynIII, a synthetic Saccharomyces cerevisiae chromosome, in Science this week (March 27). While the team edited around one-sixth of the eukaryotic chromosome, S. cerevisiae cells containing the synthetic chromosome appeared no different from typical yeast.

Tom Ellis from Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study, called the work “a landmark in synthetic biology.”

“This is significant as an example of synthetic genomics [moving] beyond making copies of chromosomes to making significant functional changes,” Harvard University’s George Church told The Scientist in an e-mail.

The human genome, annotated

NHGRIMembers of the Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome (FANTOM) project this week (March 26) presented atlases of human enhancers and promoters in Nature. “We made an encyclopedia of the definition of the normal cell: 185,000 promoters, 44,000 enhancers, and the majority of them are tissue-specific,” said Yoshihide Hayashizaki from the RIKEN Omics Science Center.

Scientists who were not involved in the research marveled at the effort. “This will be a very valuable resource for the community,” biochemist Wei Wang from the University of California, San Diego, told The Scientist. “This is a very broad survey of transcriptional activity in diverse cell types, [making it] a very valuable resource, and currently, quite unique,” added Zhiping Weng from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Brain-wide neuron-behavior map

COURTESY OF J.T. VOGELSTEIN ET AL.Using an automated technique developed to study the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and optogenetics, among other approaches, researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus and at Johns Hopkins University have recorded and classified the behavioral effects of activating sets of neurons throughout the larval fruit-fly brain. Their work was published in Science this week (March 27).

This work “gives me some hope that we can actually understand the Drosophila brain,” Aravinthan Samuel, a neuroscientist and physicist at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study, told The Scientist.

Using nanotech to treat eye diseases

FLICKR, SIMON LEEEye diseases are particularly tough to treat, largely because safely and efficiently delivering ophthalmic drugs can be challenging. Using nanotechnology-based approaches, researchers have improved upon existing treatment regimens by making drug delivery simpler and less invasive, with an eye toward promoting patient adherence.

A group led by investigators at University College London, for example, has developed a liposome-based Avastin delivery approach for treating age-related macular degeneration, which the researchers said is a promising alternative to invasive intraocular injections. And scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, along with their colleagues have designed a contact lens embedded with glaucoma drug-loaded nanodiamond particles, which are triggered by contact with an enzyme found in tears.

More news:

Making Better Mesenchymal Stem Cells
Scientists generate a new crop of stem cells by way of intermediates called hemangioblasts, which show therapeutic potential in mouse models of autoimmune diseases.

Other news in life science:

Global Air Quality Crisis
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 7 million people died in 2012 due to air pollution, making it the number-one environmental risk on the planet.

DNA Bends Control Gene Activation
Genomic structures called i-motifs signal DNA activation, while hairpin loops signal gene suppression. 

The Nose Knows
The human nose can differentiate more than a trillion odors, a study finds.

More STAP Trouble
Researcher claims his failed attempt to reproduce stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency was rejected for publication.

DNA Mugshots
Variants of 20 genes can predict the shape of a person’s face, a study finds.

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