Week in Review: July 21–25

Blood-based Alzheimer’s diagnostics; CRISPR cuts out HIV; Leishmania and the sand fly microbiome; deconstructing the lionfish science fair debacle

By | July 25, 2014

Story, comment inspire collaboration

FLICKR, US NAVYWhen Popular Science announced it was pulling its commenting system, few could argue with the staff’s impulse to reduce the negative impacts of inappropriate dialogue that detracts from scientific conversation. We at The Scientist have had a number of just-plain-awful comments posted to our site, too. But comments like this one (wctopp, July 23), on our report on two separate teams working to identify blood-based biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, remind us of the good that article comments can bring. Reader wctopp’s suggestion—that the groups partner up—has inspired a potential collaboration between Simon Lovestone of King’s College London and University of Oxford and Howard Federoff of the Georgetown University Medical Center. On Twitter, the researchers have expressed interest in working together to combine the two approaches to improve their ability to predict the onset of dementia.

Cutting out HIV with CRISPR

WIKIMEDIA, C. GOLDSMITHTemple University’s Kamel Khalili and colleagues have used the CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing technique to successfully remove latent HIV from the host genome in human cell lines. The team’s work was published in PNAS this week (July 21).

“It was a little bit . . . mind-boggling how this system really can identify a single copy of the virus in a chromosome, which is highly packed DNA, and exactly cleave that region,” said Khalili.

Daniel Stone, a staff scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, noted that “the approach has promise.” However, he added, “the next question is, how do you deliver this?”

Sand fly probiotics to fight Leishmania?

ROD DILLONThe sand fly gut microbiome can affect the insect’s capacity for carrying Leishmania, the agent of the skin-ulcer-causing disease in humans, Rod Dillon and colleagues from Lancaster University have shown. Their work was published in Parasites & Vectors this week (July 23).

“[The researchers] show that if they feed sand flies with certain bacteria that are natural components of the sand fly microbiota, the sand fly becomes more resistant to the Leishmania parasite,” said George Dimopoulos, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved in the work. “That’s interesting and that could have some translational potential too because one could develop a microbe-based control strategy to block Leishmania transmission in the field,” he told The Scientist.

Dustup over lionfish science fair project: What really happened?

WIKIMEDIA, ALBERT KOKThere are often two (or more) sides to any story. But in the case of grade-school student Lauren Arrington’s science fair project evaluating the salinity tolerances of red lionfish, which sparked lively discussions about attributing credit to former Florida International University graduate student Zack Jud (including accusations from the media of plagiarism), we at The Scientist had to find out what had gone down. [Editor’s note (July 25): After this post was published, The Atlantic changed the title on its article; the headline no longer implies that Arrington plagiarized. The piece was initially published under the headline “What a Plagiarizing 12-Year-Old Has in Common With a U.S. Senator.”]

It’s complicated, of course, but it seems that, yes, Jud has done pioneering work in this field, but no, Arrington did not plagiarize. Now, many folks on Twitter are pointing to the media as culprits in spreading unchecked rumors that lead to a 13-year-old being dubbed a thief.  

Jud’s PhD adviser Craig Layman, now at North Carolina State University, has refused to speak with news outlets (including The Scientist) about the situation, writing at his blog: “I was not happy with the way I was quoted in these early articles.  . . . I have declined or ignored many, many, interview requests since.”

More news:

Neurodegeneration and Protein Translation Linked
Researchers find that a type of neurodegeneration in mice is linked to ribosomal stalling during protein translation in the brain.

Hitting a Climate “Seal”-ing
Due to the effects of climate change, female fur seals that successfully breed do so later in life and are more likely to have increased variability within their genomes.

CDC Anthrax Researcher Resigns
The former head of a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biosecurity lab has left his post amidst safety retooling at government labs.

More Schizophrenia-Related Variants
The latest genome-wide search for genetic variants tied to the psychiatric disorder triples the number of candidates.

Scripps’s President Steps Down
Following widespread disapproval among faculty members, Scripps’s Michael Marletta resigns his post.

Airborne MERS?
Researchers detect traces of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in the air of a barn housing an infected camel.

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